Spring brings warm weather, allergens

By MARY BLAIR, Health Columnist

Spring brings new life, warmer weather and an increased chance of runny noses, coughing, congestion and sneezing, which are all associated with allergic rhinitis.

Allergic rhinitis affects close to a third of the population in the United States and other countries. Children are just as affected as adults. Allergic symptoms tend to start at about age 2. This is the age where the body is able to have a response to allergens. There have been cases, however, where children show symptoms earlier. Typical signs include nasal drainage, fatigue, congestion, nasal itching, sneezing, cough and post nasal drainage. Often, patients mistake these symptoms for a cold or the flu. In actuality, they are due to allergies.

Allergies can be present seasonally or year-round. The seasonal allergies are usually associated with certain pollens from trees, grasses and flowers; whereas, annual symptoms come from dust mites, animal dander or cockroaches. The body’s response to an allergen is like our response to a burglar. The allergen is perceived as a stranger and a threat. As a result, our body mounts different defenses to get the burglar out and to keep them out. The swelling of the nasal passages, increase in nasal drainage and cough are all mechanisms that are triggered when a foreign body or allergen is present. A diagnosis is usually made based on the patient’s history and a physical exam.

Allergy skin testing may be used to confirm the diagnosis, but it is not always necessary.

Treatments for allergic rhinitis vary, but the most important method of prevention is avoiding the allergen.  The most effective single medication, however, is a nasal steroid. A nasal steroid causes few side effects if used correctly. They have a moderately fast onset of action within several hours.

The main side effect is nosebleeds, but they are easily prevented by proper use and decreasing use once allergies have been controlled.  Antihistamines are another medication used especially for a runny nose, sneezing and itching. They work best in people who have a milder case of allergic rhinitis. There are a host of other medications that can be used alone, as well as in combination, and should be discussed with your doctor for the best method of treatment.

All in all, allergic rhinitis is a growing medical concern.  The number of medical visits, missed days of school and overall decrease in wellbeing can be blamed on this condition.

It is important to see your doctor as soon as symptoms begin and follow the medical treatments the doctor prescribes. More importantly, allergic rhinitis can be seen in patients with asthma and eczema. As a result, it is even more important to have your child evaluated if symptoms occur with chronic night-time cough or difficulty breathing with physical activity. It is important to make regular follow-up visits and to report any adverse medical side effects. Working together with your health care provider can ensure that this spring will be one that we all can enjoy allergic rhinitis free.

  • Dr. Mary Blair is a pediatrician with the Greenwood Children’s Clinic. Email your questions to mblair@glh.org.