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Helping your congested baby breathe easier
Q: I think my 5-month-old daughter has allergies. She constantly sounds congested in her chest and sneezes and coughs frequently. Is there anything I can do to make this better? She's had chest X-rays and they came back fine.
A: Aseea, it's good that the chest X-rays are fine and your baby doesn't have pneumonia. Your baby's coughing and sneezing might be caused by allergies, which are very common in young children. But it's often difficult to tell. Since allergies can be hereditary, it's more likely that your daughter has them if you or her dad have allergies or asthma. Other signs of allergies include swollen, itchy, watery eyes; runny and itchy nose; skin rashes, and wheezing.

To help your baby, you first want to figure out what could be causing her congestion and cough. Children can be allergic to things they breathe in, eat or that touch their skin.

Make sure nobody smokes around your baby, especially in your house and the car. Do you have a furry pet, carpeting, dust, mold or cockroaches around the house? Try to make sure your baby's room is as clean as possible. Don't use feather comforters and pillows, or wool clothes and blankets. Some parents find that taking carpeting out of a child's room and using a HEPA air filter can help their baby breathe better at night.

Maybe your baby is allergic to a food. Breastfeeding is good to help prevent allergies. If you're giving her formula, try switching to a soy formula for a couple of weeks to see if it makes a difference. If you've started feeding her solid foods now, it's best to wait until after 12 months to give her egg whites, berries and peanut butter (as well as cow's milk) to reduce allergies. If you're giving her bread or crackers, try avoiding them for a couple of weeks to see if she might be allergic to wheat.

Ask your pediatrician if your baby should try an antihistamine or asthma medicine. Also ask the doctor if a referral to an allergy specialist might be helpful.

Karen Sokal-Gutierrez M.D., M.P.H. Pediatrician