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Why you should expose your baby to some germs

 Paulina-George Otieno and her son George Odhiambo Otieno, 5 years, he developed allergies at an early age and had an operation to remove his tonsils.

At only three years old George Otieno had to take very heavy medication. All sorts of drugs were competing for space in his parent’s cabinet at home.

The situation was dire such that his parents contemplated withdrawing him from kindergarten.

And why not?

Every other day, little George was nursing a running nose, a cough, a sore throat or a fever - ailments that dulled the excitement that comes with starting school.

Determined to keep George in school, his parents sought a lasting solution to his troubles triggered by an allergy.

“When he was examined, his tonsils were swollen and he could not  eat well due to pain,” Paulina-George tells The Standard on Saturday. The doctor recommended removal of the tonsils. Three days later, George was home recovering after the minor operation.

When he resumed studies, his parents ensured that sugary foods were not on his plate. “We withdrew cakes, sweets and juice because they irritated him further and served no nutritional value,” says his mother.

Today, George is an active five-year-old boy in academics and sports. His favourite game is golf.

Provoke reactions

“Thomas, Olivia and William are my best friends at school because we compete to see who is fastest,” says George who is quick to share his career ambition.

“I want to be a policeman like my grandfather so that I can deal with the criminals,” says George.

George was lucky to recover from his ailment. Specialists say tonsils infection are best dealt with at an early age. Allergy specialist Dr Mbira Gikonyo notes that at birth, there may be no signs of allergies, although they may show up later as the child gets exposed to various foods, dust, pollen and other pollutants that they could react to.

Other common allergens that provoke reactions include flecks of skin shed by cats, dogs, rodents, birds and other animals with fur or feathers. Foods like milk, fish, nuts, soybeans, wheat, and eggs also trigger allergies.

Reaction to specific substances have also been found to run in families, medically known as atopic, and children whose parents have reported allergies are most affected.

“Over half of children from atopic families develop an allergic disease, while those from families that have no allergic history have less than 20 per cent chance of developing allergies,” says Dr Gikonyo.

He advises parents to help young ones build their immunity by not over-sterilising the home and using medicated soaps.

“Some microbes to challenge the immune systems of growing children are useful, and in their absence allergies develop. Do not be too protective of your children; let them play outside and learn to fight viruses and bacteria as this is good for their immunity,” says Dr Gikonyo.

According to the Ear, Nose and Throat specialist, one of the more recent developments in allergy management is the hygiene theory which states that lack of early childhood exposure to infectious agents increases susceptibility to allergic diseases by suppressing the natural development of the immune system.

“In the western world, research has shown that as families become more prosperous, with better housing and greater protection of children from microbes, the incidence of allergies are increasing,” says Dr Gikonyo.

He further says most allergies are based on the scientific hypothesis that they are linked to the hyperactive immune responses in some individuals.

Breathing problems

“Allergic diseases and symptoms occur because of an over active or hypersensitive immune system that reacts or fights things that the body should ignore such as dust, pollen, pet dander or foods,” he says.

Most allergies affect the breathing system because this is the pathway into the body.

“Snoring and breathing problems in children are often caused by growth of the adenoid tissue at the back of the nose and this is provoked by allergic reactions,” he says.

According to Paulina-George, her son’s breathing eased after the removal of the troublesome tonsils and he started sleeping longer and better. “Breathing difficulties are among the most important complications parents need to look out for. A child unable to breath is in grave danger,” says Dr Gikonyo.

George’s diet was also restricted to more healthier foods and drinks to boost his immunity against the common colds during interaction with his peers.

“I realised that limiting his interaction with peers was unavoidable, so we worked on ensuring he was strong enough to deal with the usual childhood challenges,” his mother says.

On the appropriate treatment for allergies, Dr Gikonyo says it depends on symptoms and their severity and can be in the form of sprays for the nose that may contain steroids.

Prescription of antihistamines and anti-allergic medication and even antibiotics where bacterial infections are observed is done.

In other cases like George’s, operations to remove adenoids and tonsils become critical to restore normal breathing patterns and this should be done when the individual is young to promote faster recovery.

Though he is too young to understand the gravity of having his tonsils removed due to allergic reactions, George is eager to tell us that he is heading to the Holy Family Basilica for practice as a liturgical dancer.

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