Itchy eyes, drippy nose, sneezing, coughing, fatigue. It’s not a cold. Your child has allergies.
If your child has allergic rhinitis, their immune system mistakenly identifies a typically harmless substance — an allergen — as an intruder. The substance is called an allergen. The immune system overacts by producing antibodies that travel to cells that release histamine and other chemicals. The histamine and chemicals cause an allergic reaction with symptoms such as sneezing, stuffiness, a runny nose, itching and post-nasal drip.
Seasonal allergic rhinitis, which so many of us are suffering from this spring, is often caused by pollen carried in the air during different times of the year. Perennial allergic rhinitis is triggered by common indoor allergens, such as urine and saliva found on pet dander, mold and droppings from dust mites and cockroach particles. It typically occurs year-round. Your child can suffer from either seasonal or perennial allergic rhinitis, or a combination of both.
In addition to allergen triggers, symptoms may occur from irritants such as smoke and strong odors, or changes in the temperature and humidity of the air. This occurs because allergic rhinitis causes inflammation in the nasal lining, which increases sensitivity to inhalants.
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Many people with allergic rhinitis are prone to eye allergies. In addition, allergic rhinitis can make symptoms of asthma worse for people who suffer from both conditions.
Rhinitis is not limited to those with allergies. At least one in three people with rhinitis symptoms do not have allergies. Non-allergic rhinitis usually afflicts adults and causes year-round symptoms, especially runny nose and nasal congestion. This condition differs from allergic rhinitis because the immune system is not involved.
Treatment and management of allergic rhinitis
Any child can develop allergies, but they are more common in children from families with a history of allergic reactions. Early identification of childhood allergies will improve your child’s quality of life, reduce the number of missed school days and help you avoid using sick time or vacation days to care for your child.
An allergist has special training and experience to determine which allergens, if any, are causing your child's symptoms. The allergist will take a detailed history, perform a physical exam and then most likely test for allergies. Skin tests show results within 20 minutes. These results, as well as the severity and frequency of your child’s symptoms, will develop a treatment plan to make your child feel better.
After seeing an allergist, parents need to make sure their children avoid allergens that cause symptoms. Common allergy triggers in children include:
▪ Outdoors — tree pollen, plant pollen, insect bites or stings.
▪ Indoors — pet or animal hair or fur, dust mites and mold.
▪ Irritants — cigarette smoke, perfume and car exhaust.
If your child is allergic to dust mites, it is important to take steps to prevent exposure. This includes limiting stuffed animals in the bedroom, frequently washing bed linens in hot water and using dust covers on mattress and pillows. The same is true for outdoor allergens. Limiting their exposure during times of high pollen and mold counts, using air conditioning and keeping car windows closed may help reduce symptoms.
Nasal corticosteroid sprays control inflammation and reduce all symptoms of allergic rhinitis, including itching, sneezing, runny nose and stuffiness. Antihistamines in the form of liquid, pills or nasal sprays block histamine and may relieve itching sneezing and runny nose. Anti-leukotrienes in pill or granule form can decrease the symptoms of allergies.
Your allergist may also recommend allergy shots or tablets. This immunotherapy treatment involves receiving injections or taking tablets periodically over a period of three to five years. Immunotherapy decreases sensitivity to allergens, saving you money, as fewer over-the-counter medications are needed over time.
Gary Kleiner, M.D., Ph.D., is a pediatric immunologist at the University of Miami Health System. For more information, visit UHealthSystem.com/patients/pediatrics.
Tips to avoid triggers
▪ Keep windows and doors shut at home and in your car during allergy season.
▪ To avoid pollen, know which pollens your child is sensitive to and then check pollen counts. In spring and summer, during tree and grass pollen season, levels are highest in the evening. In late summer and early fall, during ragweed pollen season, levels are highest in the morning.
▪ Take a shower, wash your hair and change your clothes after you’ve been working or playing outdoors.
▪ Wear a NIOSH-rated 95 filter mask when mowing the lawn or doing other chores outdoors, and take appropriate medication beforehand.