We've had plenty of questions about allergies this time of year, and with so many already suffering, we decide to put together a series on what you need to know to help your family survive allergy season.
It is the season for allergic rhinitis (inflammation of the nasal passages) which are triggered by tree pollens and grasses as spring blows in. Allergy symptoms affect about 1:5 people and the first symptoms often begin in childhood. Children typically develop symptoms of allergic rhinitis between the ages of 3–4 years. Many of these children might have shown symptoms of eczema (atopic dermatitis) and asthma at even younger ages. If one parent has allergies, there is about a 40-50% chance that their child may also be allergic and if two allergic persons marry (guess you should ask about that while dating), then there is a 70-80% chance that their children will also be allergic.
It also seems that early exposure to cigarette smoke, cat dander and house dust mites may promote other allergic symptoms later in life. (Another great reason not to smoke if you have children) The most common symptoms of an allergy are complaints of an itchy nose, watery and red eyes, sneezing, runny nose (typically clear), post nasal drip and cough. These allergic symptoms are brought on by the release of histamines in the body after exposure to the allergen, such as inhaled pollens.
While allergic symptoms have been labeled, "hay fever" this is an inappropriate term as allergies do not cause a fever and the child is not necessarily allergic to hay. There are also different pollens responsible for allergic symptoms at different times of the year. Children that develop seasonal allergies have several characteristic physical findings. They may have allergic "shiners" which are darkened areas beneath the lower eyelid from swelling, they also often have a crease across their nasal bridge (termed the allergic salute) which occurs due to constant rubbing of the nose. You can often see the child rub their little watery eyes while you are examining them and they often have a clear, watery nasal discharge. Some of these allergic children will also have a cough and may even be wheezing. They often look rather uncomfortable rather than sick as with a cold.
There are many different treatment options for controlling allergic rhinitis. The first is to control the environment as much as possible by closing windows and turning on the AC in order that the airborne allergens do not blow into the house. After your child has been playing outdoors have them come in and shower to remove the pollens from their hair and body (not a favorite pastime for little boys). You can also watch the pollen count for your area and limit a child's time outdoors on especially high pollen count days. Medical treatment of allergic rhinitis coming up in part 2 of our special series. Send your question to Dr. Sue!