By Heather Silverberg, M.D.
After a very wet winter, spring is in full bloom – and for children with environmental allergies, that may mean itchy noses, watery eyes, congestion and other allergy symptoms. Allergic rhinitis, more commonly known as nasal allergies, is an extremely common condition in children. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, nearly 50 percent of kids age 6-18 are sensitive to one or more allergens in the environment.
Allergic rhinitis is part of a family of atopic disorders that includes asthma, eczema and other allergic conditions. Nasal allergies don’t happen all of a sudden. Rather, they develop over time; the body becomes sensitized through multiple exposures to a given allergen.
While spring may be a prime time for allergens to bloom, many people experience nasal allergies year-round. Grass, dust mites and molds are among the most common allergens.
Symptoms of nasal allergies may resemble a common cold, such as a runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing, congestion, and a scratchy throat. However, allergies do not cause a fever, and their symptoms often persist for weeks or months.
Without treatment, allergies can lead to other health problems. Chronic or long-term congestion in the airways and nasal passages can make it difficult to breathe, which can affect sleep quality; tired kids may be more irritable and less attentive in school. In kids with asthma, nasal allergies may also trigger attacks. Fluid build-up in the ears can cause stubborn infections, decreased hearing, slowed speech development or language delays.
If you suspect your child has allergies, your pediatrician can help identify the triggers and relieve symptoms.
Allergens exist indoors as well. Dust mites, for example, infest pillows, mattresses and bedding, so it can help to wash bedding weekly in hot water, and get dust mite-proof encasements for mattress and pillows. Wash stuffed animals, another dust mite magnet, in hot water or put in the dryer for 30 minutes once a week.
A saline nasal rinse, available over the counter, can be used daily to rinse nasal passages. Be sure to follow the directions closely and use distilled water, not tap water, to mix the saline solution. Pre-mixed saline nasal sprays are another option.
It’s inevitable that your child will spend long periods outdoors in sunny places like San Diego, which is why washing is so important. Welcome your child from a day outdoors playing sports or doing other activities with a reminder to wash his or her face and hands to remove the pollen and other allergens.
To Your Health” is brought to you by the physicians and staff of Scripps. For more information or to make an appointment, please visit scripps.org/CBJ or call (858) 348-4210.