Struggling for Breath

Nothing scares a parent more than hearing their child wheezing and struggling for breath. According to Health Canada, over 2.2 million Canadians have asthma. Even more alarming is that almost 20 per cent of Canadian children suffer from this respiratory disorder.

What many people do not realize is that while asthma can be caused by respiratory infections and other predisposing factors, most times asthma is actually caused by allergies. In fact, the prevalence of allergic asthma has increased dramatically in recent years.

?Several theories exist on why allergies are on the rise,? explains Iris Greenwald, family physician and mother. ?Changes in our environment, lifestyles and diets, have left us exposed to more allergens.?

Since Canadians spend so much time indoors, our homes play a significant role in the development of allergies and asthma…but maybe not in the way you think. While parents strive to keep a clean home for their children, a theory has been developing over the past 10 or so years, called the ?hygiene hypothesis?. This idea states that our home environments might actually be too clean and young children may not be exposed to enough infections early in life.

Now, this doesn?t mean put away the vacuum cleaner and duster. Instead we have to be aware that the chance of someone becoming allergic to a potential trigger depends on whether his or her immune system becomes sensitive or tolerant to that trigger. For example, if a child who is genetically prone to allergies is born into a house with a cat, the child?s immune system will become tolerant to cat allergens, reducing the likelihood of developing allergies to the cat.


The first step in easing your child?s suffering is determining if they do indeed have allergies. ?The best indicator is time,? says Dr. Greenwald. ?If symptoms last longer than a week, allergies should be considered.? If your child does suffer from allergies and asthma, there are several ways to ease the suffering. The best advice is to keep your house as free from potential triggers as possible.

So how do you reduce exposure to common allergic triggers, which can include dust mites, animal dander, smoke and mould? Parents have options. Case in point, using dust mite covers on furniture, such as mattresses and pillows, can significantly decrease exposure, as can removing carpets and using air filters.


Just because your child may have asthma from allergies doesn?t mean they can?t own a pet. But it is important to eliminate some of the dander magnets and pet-child areas of contact, such as drapes and carpeting, because the protein in pet dander, which is what causes the allergic reaction, sticks to walls, curtains and carpet.

Bathing the animal regularly is another way to control its allergens, as is restricting the animal to certain rooms of the house. The dander still travels through the house but this will at least slow down the movement.

?Of course, if the family pet is causing serious asthma attacks, it is best to give it away,? explains Dr. Greenwald. ?Failure to do so could cause persistent lung irritability.?


Avoid Triggers ? Removing as many allergy triggers as possible is the first step in helping your child feel better in the long term. Avoid carpeting and curtains, encase pillows and bedding in airtight covers, and wash bedding in hot water frequently. Vacuum regularly and avoid sweeping. Use air filters, air conditioning and a dehumidifier in damp areas.

Back Scratch Test ? If you are already implementing some of the avoidance measures, it is probably best to have your child tested. Because such testing is quantitative, parents can determine their child?s worst allergy culprits, and also find out the degree to which they are allergic to something.

Cetirizine ? Medications in the form of a kid-friendly syrup are good options as this is a format children accept more easily. As safety is always an issue when dealing with young children, cetirizine-based syrups, such as Reactine Syrup for Children, are a good option. Cetirizine doesn?t have to be processed by the liver in order to be effective so there is minimal interference with a child?s system and little concern for drug interactions. As well, new research shows that cetirizine may actually be effective in preventing the onset of asthma and allergies in children. Parents should look for syrups that come in a one-dose format and can provide long lasting, 24-hour relief for children 2-12 years old.


Dealing with allergies isn?t fun for children or their parents, but having some understanding of what causes allergies and taking steps to control the problem can help ensure everyone is happier.

?Parents should definitely make an effort to control allergens around their children,? says Dr. Greenwald. ?There is no cure for allergies but parents can definitely make a difference in the quality of life for their children.?

Dr. Greenwald offers the following tips to help keep your children allergy symptom-free.

1. If allergies run in the family, take precautions early, even when you are pregnant. This can include ensuring the baby?s bedroom has wood floors, put a dust mite cover over the crib mattress and keep stuffed animals at a minimum (they breed dust mites)

2. Keep pets out of your child?s bedroom

3. Don?t smoke around small children

4. Clean air ducts in your child?s bedroom

5. Wash their sheets and bedding in hot water once a week

6. Place that favourite blanket or stuffed animal in the freezer for 24 hours every three weeks to kill allergens

7. Establish a set place in the closet for toys, which prevents clutter and is easier to keep clean

8. Give your child allergy medication in a one-dose, 24-hour relief format, such as Reactine Syrup for Children

9. Refrain from having your child help out with chores like mowing the lawn (they can still wash dishes!)

10.Wash your child?s clothes immediately if they have been at a friend?s house with a pet

For more tips and treatments related to allergies and children, visit