Infants and allergies

Q: Can infants suffer from seasonal allergies?

A: Allergies often are inherited, so observing for symptoms is important. When the immune system repeatedly is presented with a substance (allergen), the body can erroneously begin to recognize it as foreign and set off a cascade of cell activities similar to those triggered by an infection. 

Antibodies are created and bind to those allergens. Unfortunately, this triggers some cells to release a chemical, called histamine, which acts on the body’s own mucous membranes of the eyes, nose and respiratory tree to cause congestion, itching and profuse, watery discharge.

A body’s allergic response, however, typically requires repeated exposures to the allergen over time to develop those antibodies. 

Often substances that are present year-round are the first to evolve into allergens. Foods, dust mites or pet dander are examples of substances that may cause difficulties for infants because of year-round exposure. 

Seasonal allergens like pollen, meanwhile, often take a few years of exposure (due to their seasonality) before the body begins recognizing the substances as allergens. It would be quite uncommon for a child younger than 1 to develop seasonal allergy symptoms, though it could occur by 18 months.

Allergy symptoms such as congestion, sneezing and a clear runny nose may look virtually identical to a viral upper respiratory tract infection or “cold.” It’s not surprising that parents are concerned that their infants may have seasonal allergies, but, unfortunately, viral illness is far more likely at a young age.