Over winter, I see a lot of sick kids with a variety of infections – from ear infections to croup, from coughs to full-blown flu. But the kids who struggle with persistent or regular infections are usually kids with allergies and atopic conditions.
Kids with allergies are more prone to picking up infections, and it can take them longer to recover from a nasty bug. But there are steps we can take to give their immune system a little extra TLC and keep them healthier over the winter months.
Watch the video below or keep reading to learn more about immune support for kids with allergies.
Why do kids with allergies and atopic conditions get sick more frequently?
There are a couple of reasons why these kids are more prone to infections. By understanding why they get sick easily, we can start to address the underlying issues and support their immune system naturally.
When a child has an allergy, intolerance or atopic condition such as asthma, eczema or even hayfever, it has the same dysfunction. One part of the immune system has become overactive, and is reacting to things that are normally harmless to the body. This might be a reaction to food, dust, pet dander, pollen or other environmental triggers.
The immune system only has so much fuel to keep it running. If a lot of that fuel goes into the overdrive, there is less energy for the part of the system that fights off microbes and infections. A well-powered immune system will often kick infections before symptoms even occur. But for kids with allergies, there isn’t enough fuel to keep it at peak, so they fall sick more often and easily.
Another reason is that allergies and atopic conditions often come with a breakdown of physical barriers. When a child has a food allergy or intolerance, there are typically issues with the gut lining. If the gut becomes leaky, germs can easily cross from the gut into the bloodstream, so it’s easier to fall sick.
This applies to other physical barriers. With eczema, there is a breakdown in the skin barrier. As the skin is inflamed, there’s a greater risk of skin infections. With asthma, issues with respiratory barriers can occur, leaving kids vulnerable to lung infections.
The combination of less power for the protective side of the immune system combined with breakdown of barriers is why kids with allergies and atopic conditions are more prone to illness.
3 ways to support immunity in kids with allergies
When it comes to immunity, there are plenty of ways to support it naturally. But if you have a child with allergies or atopic conditions, you might want to take some extra steps to keep them healthy. These are my top 3 tips for how to boost and balance their immune system.
Encourage a healthy, diverse gut
A rich, diverse microbiome (microbes in the gut) is an important factor in allergies, atopic conditions and immune defence. The more diverse the bacteria in the gut, the more kids are protected against allergies and germs.
Compared to our hunter-gatherer days, our microbiome diversity is half of what it used to be. The combination of our Western diet and lifestyle has depleted the microbes in the gut, which is part of why allergies and intolerances are on the rise.
So when it comes to kids with atopic and allergic conditions, supporting gut health is twice as essential. A healthy diverse gut will not only bolster their defences against infections – it can also help to balance out the overactive side of the immune system.
Optimising gut health and promoting diversity can be done in a variety of ways. But there are 4 main steps to think about.
Minimise the sanitisers
The first step is to reduce the use and consumption of things that kill off good bacteria in the gut. This can include food-based ingredients such as refined sugar and additives. But it can also include personal care products and cleaning products with antibacterial ingredients. Even antibacterial hand sanitisers can end up on food and entering your child’s digestive tract.
Another common sanitiser is antibiotics. It can be a vicious cycle – kids get sick, take antibiotics that deplete good bacteria and lower immunity, so they are more prone to getting sick again. Antibiotics do have their place, but we want to make sure to only use them when they are needed. For example, if your child has a viral infection such as a cold, flu or croup, antibiotics won’t help.
Increase exposure to everyday microbes
Another step is to expose your kids to the natural environments where microbes thrive. Exposure to microbes is essential for developing a healthy, well-balanced immune system.
Encourage your kids to play outside more often. Pets are also another good source of everyday microbes. You could even take the kids to a petting zoo every term break.
Replenish with good bacteria
We can’t avoid everything that affects gut bacteria. So replenishing the system is just as important. This means using fermented foods, as well as probiotics. I recommend that all kids with allergies or atopic conditions use a probiotic supplement along with fermented foods.
Not all probiotics are created equal. Different strains have different benefits. When it comes to allergies and atopic conditions, I like using L. rhamnosus, or LGG. Although it’s only one strain, it promotes diversity in the gut.
Other strains can help with boosting and balancing the immune system, but the best combination and dose depends on the individual. I tend to use practitioner-only brands because they are high-quality and backed by research. For access to practitioner-level brands, you can book an express consultation here.
When it comes to fermented foods, there are plenty of options to try. Sauerkraut, water kefir, kombucha, coconut kefir and yoghurt are just a few to try out.
Fermented foods are an acquired taste, but small amounts can make a big difference. Start with a strand or two of sauerkraut in their dinner, or a splash of kefir in a smoothie. I use apple kraut for my daughter who dislikes sauerkraut – the sweetness of the apple encouraged her to try it out.
Feed the good bacteria
Once you’ve put the good into the gut, you need to encourage it to thrive. The average Western diet is low in fibre, particularly prebiotic fibres. But including plenty of wholefoods will boost your child’s prebiotic intake and support a healthy gut.
For more tips about how to support your child’s gut health naturally, make sure you download my free Kids Gut Health ebook here.
Ensure good vitamin D levels
Vitamin D is important for immunity, but when it comes to kids with allergies, it’s essential. We need good amounts of vitamin D in the winter to fight off germs. But we also have less opportunity to get vitamin D in winter due to shorter days, more layers of clothing and weaker sunlight.
Vitamin D boosts a type of immune cell known as T-reg. This modulates the immune system and maintains tolerance levels. This can prevent immune imbalances including allergies and autoimmune conditions. It can also keep allergic symptoms under control.
Another benefit is that vitamin D can increase the diversity of gut flora. So it can ramp up the defensive side of the immune system while balancing out the overactive side.
Many studies have linked vitamin D and allergies. In Australia, studies have shown that states with weaker sunlight such as Victoria and South Australia have higher levels of allergic conditions compared to states closer to the equator such as Queensland.
The only way to know vitamin D levels is with a blood test. But when it comes to kids with allergies, it’s a good idea to optimise their vitamin D levels.
Get more exposure to vitamin D
This is another great reason for kids to play outside, even when it’s cold. The cold weather can just mean you need to get creative. Head to a national park for a walk, get them to help plant a winter vegetable garden, or take them out on a bug hunt.
When outside in winter, encourage them to expose as much skin as possible – roll up their sleeves, take the sunglasses and hats off, and skip the sunscreen. Aim for 20-30 minutes per day in the middle of the day.
When it comes to a vitamin D supplement, you want vitamin D3. I use a liquid practitioner-only brand, as it’s easy to take and you can adjust the dose for different family members. For adults, start with 1000IU. For kids over 2, 500IU a day is generally safe. If you think a higher dose is warranted, seek the advice of a practitioner.
Add in bonus immune support
There are a lot of ways to support immunity naturally. Herbs, homeopathics, bodywork like chiropractic and even essential oils can have their benefits.
But as a practitioner, I like to focus on a strategy that supports both sides of the immune system. My go-to is medicinal mushrooms.
Medicinal mushrooms are great nourishing ingredients for the immune system. They have anti-viral and anti-microbial actions, supporting the defensive side. But they can also dampen down the allergic side.
I use a practitioner-only blend that includes reishi, shiitake and coriolus. Different mushrooms will be beneficial depending on your child’s specific case. If you’re not sure, seek professional advice.
When it comes to kids with allergies, correcting the underlying drivers is essential for long-term health. To identify and address the root causes naturally, book a Skype consultation here.