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.
“Often, allergies, asthma and eczema are interrelated and can run in families,” said Shaun Berger, MD, a pediatrician with Scripps Clinic Rancho San Diego. “You want to control your asthma and allergies so they don’t control you.”
While spring may be a prime time for allergens to bloom, many people experience nasal allergies year-round.
“Airborne or environmental allergens are the most common type of allergen in San Diego,” said Jenny Davis, MD, a pediatrician with Scripps Clinic Rancho Bernardo. “Common examples include pollen from grasses, trees and shrubbery, as well as dust mites, mold spores and animal dander.”
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.
“It is important to take preventive measures to limit exposure, such as avoiding being outdoors on windy days,” said Sivathilaka Ganesh, MD, a pediatrician with Scripps Coastal Eastlake. “Especially if there is a family history of allergies or asthma, you need to be extra cautious.”
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.
If you suspect your child has allergies, your pediatrician can help identify the triggers and relieve symptoms. If kids have to be outdoors for sports or other activities, medications may be needed.
“A lot of school-age kids are on outdoor sports teams and are allergic to grass or pollens," said Matilda Remba, MD, a pediatrician with Scripps Clinic Mission Valley. “In that case, it can be helpful to use medications such as antihistamines before exposure. Talk to your pediatrician before using any medications, even over-the-counter, to make sure you’re using the right medications for your child.”