Childhood Allergies & Behavioral Problems

While food allergies in children have been linked to allergic reactions involving the skin, gastrointestinal tract and respiratory system, controversy surrounds theories that those factors might influence childhood behavior disorders, according to an article published in the January 1999 issue of “American Family Physician.” Although children with behavioral disorders might have allergies as well, it’s uncertain whether allergies play a direct role in causing troubling behaviors 2. However, suffering allergy symptoms can affect the way your child behaves.

Symptoms Cause Discomfort

Symptoms can include:

  • sneezing
  • a runny nose
  • itchy
  • watery eyes
  • postnasal drip
  • chronic nasal congestion

Fluid that accumulates in the ears can also cause ear infections -- another common symptom of childhood allergies. Because these symptoms cause discomfort and are even painful sometimes, they can lead to a change in a child’s behavior.

Allergic Irritability Syndrome

Allergic irritability syndrome refers to nose, sinus and ear symptoms in children who suffer allergies 2. Children who have allergies can be irritable, moody, overactive or unable to concentrate when doing schoolwork 2. Also, some children are more prone to temper tantrums when they aren’t feeling well. The University of Missouri Extension website lists fatigue and being sick among the chief reasons why children -- particularly young children -- misbehave 3. Chronic nasal congestion can make it hard for a child to breathe and that can lead to not getting enough sleep. Consequently, a child with a nasal allergy might feel tired much of the time.

Relieving Symptoms

While most symptoms related to childhood allergies aren’t life-threatening, if a child has other health problems, allergies can make them worse. The Kids Health website points out that even though allergies don't have cures, you can relieve the symptoms. Once you identify your child’s allergens, try reducing her exposure to or contact with the allergen. In the case of a food allergy, you might have to remove the food from her diet. If those strategies don't work, her doctor might prescribe medications. Treating allergy symptoms can make a child feel better so that she’ll be less irritable and distracted.

Unknown Allergies

Sometimes allergies only affect a child’s nervous system, causing parents to think that the problem might be with learning or behavior. Dianne Craft, a special education teacher for more than 35 years, points out at that while not all children who have allergies have learning problems, kids with learning disabilities often have allergies 2. Unfortunately, parents aren’t always aware that a child has an allergy. If a child doesn’t have a rash, runny nose or suffer from chronic ear or respiratory infections, a parent might not consider an allergy as the cause:

  • for his irritability
  • hyperactivity
  • problems focusing
  • or lack of attention
  • motivation