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Allergy and Immunology

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When children have allergies, their immune systems overreact to substances that are harmless to most people. Those substances can include food, dust mites and pollen.

To try to protect the body, the immune system produces certain types of antibodies (called immunoglobulin E, or IgE) that then cause allergy cells in the body (called mast cells) to release chemicals into the bloodstream. Histamine, one of those chemicals, then starts affecting children's eyes, nose, throat, lungs, skin, or gastrointestinal tract, and this causes the symptoms of an allergic reaction.

Although different people may react to allergens in different ways, signs of a mild allergic reaction can include:

  • Stuffy, runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Mild skin redness
  • Red bumps (hives) anywhere on the body
  • Mild swelling
  • Itchiness
  • Itchy, watery eyes

Although most allergic reactions aren't serious, some can be life-threatening and require a call to 911 or a trip to the ER right away. Signs of anaphylaxis (a sudden, potentially severe allergic reaction involving various systems in the body) can include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Tightness in the throat or feeling like the throat or airways are closing
  • Hoarseness or trouble speaking
  • Wheezing
  • Nasal stuffiness or coughing
  • Nausea, abdominal pain, or vomiting
  • Fast heartbeat or pulse
  • Skin itching, tingling, redness, or swelling

Virtua's board-certified allergy and immunology specialists evaluate and diagnose and manage disorders of the immune system including:

  • Allergic reactions to drugs, food, insect bites, fungus, and other substances
  • Asthma
  • Eczema
  • Angioedema – rapid swelling
  • Chronic inflammation of the sinuses (Rhinosinusitis or Sinusitis)
  • Blood disorders such as Eosiniphilia and Mastocytosis
  • Runny nose (Rhinitis)
  • Hives (Urticaria)
  • Immune deficiencies
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Organ transplants

To diagnose these disorders, Virtua doctors use skin and blood tests.

While there is no cure for allergies, there are treatments available that will relieve symptoms. Some treatments are:

  • Reducing exposure to allergens
  • Medications
  • Allergy shots (immunotherapy)