Pollution among the factors causing more allergies among children - and figures are set to rise
Three-quarters of parents with at least one child under the age of three report that the child has allergies, a study shows - and researchers warn the figure will grow.
Some 58 per cent of the youngsters had eczema or a skin allergy, 32 per cent had rhinitis or hay fever and 25 per cent airway allergies such as asthma. Some of the children suffered more than one type of allergy.
The findings of the survey by the Allergy Association, commissioned by the University of Hong Kong, were based on interviews with 511 parents.
Only 30 per cent of the children were believed to have inherited the condition from their parents - meaning the rest might be down to factors such as pollution, exposure to second-hand smoke, caesarean delivery or not being breastfed exclusively in their first six months.
"We have seen many more allergy cases in this generation than the last," said Dr Marco Ho Hok-kung, chairman of the association.
"I believe the number is only going to rise in the future, in keeping with the global trend. It is vital to understand the risk of allergies and take preventive measures."
Allergies could affect the long-term growth of infants, said Ho. Some research suggests that infants who develop an allergy before the age of two have a 24 per cent increased risk of developing emotional problems later in life.
Families with children suffering from allergies often have to devote a lot of effort to preventing exposure to allergens such as peanuts, milk or seafood in meals and dust mites at home.
According to the World Health Organisation, 40 to 50 per cent of children across the globe are bothered by one or more types of allergy.
Ho said if either parent had an allergy, there was a 30 per cent chance of their child inheriting it. This increased to 50 per cent if both parents were sufferers. And in general, every child has 5 to 15 per cent chance of developing an allergy even if neither parent has the condition.
Paediatrician Dr Alfred Tam Yat-cheung said risks could be attributed to environmental factors such as pollution and exposure to second-hand smoke. They could be reduced by giving birth naturally and feeding the babies only breast milk in their first six months, he said.