Can food allergies put your child at greater risk of developing Covid-19 complications?

  • Parents have expressed concern over whether food allergies can cause Covid-19 complications in kids
  • Professor Claudia Gray says there is no evidence to suggest this can happen, but stresses that allergies must always be well-controlled
  • Poorly controlled allergies, such as allergic eczema can lead to an increased risk of contracting SARS-CoV-2, but there are ways to manage this

Children with food allergies often experience fear and anxiety, and it is common for parents to feel overwhelmed and stressed too. And the emergence of the new coronavirus has put many parents on edge about whether underlying food allergies could increase the risk of Covid-19 complications, should their child become infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Professor Claudia Gray, paediatrician and allergist at Kids Allergy – Paediatric and Allergy Centre, said in a live interview hosted by the Allergy Foundation South Africa (AFSA) that medical experts don't know of any evidence that having this type of allergy could cause complications in Covid-19 patients.

“Apart from asthma which – only if poorly controlled or very severe – is a risk factor, the other allergies have not borne out to be significant risk factors.

“So, allergies such as allergic rhinitis or food allergies do not increase your likelihood of having Covid-19 complications, but as for any chronic conditions, your care of those allergies need to continue,” Gray said.

If one has food allergies, for example, Gray added that stringent avoidance the allergic foods, as well as having an emergency action plan in place is crucial at all times.

Gray further commented that although some allergies, such as allergic eczema, are not risk factors per se, if they are poorly controlled it could lead to itching and scratching, and even cause difficulty wearing a mask or sanitising one’s hands – all of which could put one at risk of contracting the virus.

“Once again, this is a reason to really have your underlying allergic diseases well-controlled at this point in time,” Gray said.

Eczema and hand sanitisers: a few tips

Although alcohol-based sanitisers have been largely encouraged as a strong preventative measure by killing the new coronavirus, they can really sting in people with skin conditions such as eczema. Gray gave two tips on choosing the best sanitiser in this situation: try to find a hand sanitiser that suits your child’s sensitive skin, then stick to using only that sanitiser, and moisturise afterwards.

Gray explains: “We have heard that 60–70% alcohol is necessary to kill the SARS-CoV-2 virus, but you can add things like glycerine into the mixture and that automatically becomes a protectant.

“Secondly, there are some alcohol-free sanitisers, which haven’t really been promoted, but these are also effective against 99.9% of viruses and bacteria.”

Gray also advised that children avoid using hand sanitisers at shops or schools, as most of these are alcohol-based. Instead, she suggested, let your child carry their own sanitiser attached to a lanyard around their necks, for instance.

Effective moisturising is also important for helping to control eczema, and Gray, therefore, stresses habitual moisturising once one has used a hand sanitiser.

“Remember, hand sanitiser has to be rubbed into your hands for 20 seconds to be really effective, then immediately afterwards, you should moisturise your hands. Thirdly, of course, there are many soaps that are very harsh on the skin, so find a very gentle soap that suits [your child], and let them take that along with them to school.”  

READ | Coronavirus in children: Could blood vessels explain the low number of complicated cases?

READ | Children and Covid-19: What the latest study says

READ | Similar to adults, obesity raises kids' odds for severe Covid-19

Image: Kukuh Napaki on Unsplash

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