The weather warms, the days lengthen, and your child (and possibly the rest of the family) starts developing sneezing, sniffling, a sore throat, itchy watery eyes and a cough. Is it a cold? If it lasts more than a week, worsens after spending time outside, or recurs intermittently, these symptoms are most likely not related to a respiratory infection – they’re due to allergic rhinitis, commonly referred to as hay fever.
Seasonal allergic rhinitis is extremely common, affecting up to 20% of those in theUnited States, and up to 40% ofU.S.children. Allergy sufferers require approximately 3 additional office visits per year, 9 additional prescriptions per year, $1500 in additional healthcare costs per year, and add up to 2 million missed school days in theU.S.per year.
In addition, uncontrolled allergies can lead to more illness and higher healthcare costs due to associated conditions, such as sinus infections and asthma.
The triggers to symptoms during the spring months in the Bay Area are primarily grass and tree pollens, with some contribution from weed pollens in late spring and through the summer. Pollen is the powdery substance that covers your car and driveway in the spring and summer. It is carried in the wind and enters the eyes and nose, leading to the symptoms experienced by allergy sufferers.
The key to improving your allergic child’s symptoms is to learn his triggers. This is done in the allergist’s office by placing extracts made from various pollens on the skin. If symptoms are present for long periods of time, additional skin testing may also be done to check for allergy to mold, dust mite or pets. A positive skin test results in a small, raised bump at the site within 20 minutes. Compared with blood testing for allergies, skin testing is more sensitive and reliable, generally less costly, and provides immediate results.
There are steps that can be taken to avoid outdoor allergens, thereby lessening spring allergy symptoms. These include:
•Keeping windows in the home and automobile closed as much as possible.
•Limiting outdoor activity during windy days.
•Changing clothing after outdoor activity.
•Showering and washing hair in the evening to remove pollen prior to bedtime.
•Rinsing the nose and eyes with saline spray or drops to wash away pollen.
If not controlled with the above control measures, there are several groups of medications available to help lessen your child’s allergy symptoms. These include antihistamine and/or decongestant tablets or liquid, nasal steroid sprays, and nasal antihistamine sprays. If your child’s allergy symptoms are significant, it may require combinations of these medications to gain good control. The key is working with your physician to address the allergy triggers and formulate a treatment plan prior to the peak of allergy season, in order to prevent undue suffering. While medications are quite effective and safe, if not used early or if the allergies are severe, the medications may not control symptoms adequately. There are no medications that “cure” this condition, so if not taken as directed, the allergy symptoms will return year after year.
Have you heard of allergy shots, also known as immunotherapy? This excellent form of treatment consists of delivering small amounts of the particular allergens that cause your child’s symptoms just under the skin, causing little to minimal discomfort. Over time, the amount of allergen in the shots is increased, which helps the immune system to become more and more resistant to the effects of the allergens in the environment. There are oral drops that can be used similarly, but shots are twice as effective in lessening the allergy symptoms. Allergen immunotherapy is the only type of treatment currently available that actually alters the condition, and if started early enough, can lead to a long term cure. Also, allergy shots have been proven to alter the course of the disease, lessening the chance of developing new allergies and asthma. Allergy specialists have been well trained in the knowledge and skills necessary to safely formulate and deliver immunotherapy, so if considering this course of treatment, be sure to visit a board certified allergist for the best care possible.
The right care can make the difference between suffering with an allergic disease and living a symptom-free life. So don’t let your child suffer this spring. By visiting an allergist, you can expect an accurate diagnosis, a treatment plan that works, and educational information to help you and your child manage their disease and enjoy our beautiful Bay Area spring and summer!