Hay fever or allergic rhinitis is the commonest chronic disease that affects children. Its effect on a child’s daily life can be significant, sometimes leading to poor school performance. Commonly, it begins at around the age of 9, however it can also affect younger children. Children at risk usually have a personal history of food allergies, asthma or eczema. They may also have a family history of food allergies, asthma, eczema or rhinitis.
Signs and symptoms of Hay Fever in Children
Children with allergic rhinitis are easy to spot – they are the ones that have a constant runny nose and/or itchy eyes. They may also have a constant blocked nose and thus become mouth breathers. They commonly rub their noses or eyes due to itchiness, some of them constantly. They may sneeze when they are around triggers such as dust, pets or freshly mowed grass.
Allergic rhinitis is an inflammatory illness that results in swelling of the nasal passages and increased mucus production. It is most commonly triggered by dust and dust mites. It can also be triggered by strong smells, grass, moulds, pollen, pet hair and respiratory tract infections.
Why Hay Fever should be taken seriously
Imagine suffering from cold symptoms on most days of your life. Now, imagine having to cope with that plus activities of daily living such as school, growing, playing and hobbies. Add to it the fact that some kids with allergic rhinitis suffer from sleep obstruction at night and are thus constantly tired. The burden of this problem on children can be significant; leading to fatigue, days off and lack of concentration at school. Some children can even drop academically.
Treatment for Hay Fever in Children
If you think your child may suffer from allergic rhinitis, it is recommended that you seek medical help from a doctor who is experienced in treating this condition and understands the importance of it. Treatment may involve medicated corticosteroid nasal sprays, antihistamines and, in severe cases, desensitization therapy. It is important to avoid sedating antihistamines in children, so ask for non-drowsy/non-sedating antihistamines when you go to the pharmacy, and check that the brand you are given is safe to use in your child’s age bracket. Something else to consider is a nasal salt water spray. There are some brands at the chemist that are preservative free. These help with the congestion and are safe to use. Try to use a salty water nasal spray prior to corticosteroid nasal sprays, as they improve their efficacy.
Hay Fever Triggers
Family Doctors Plus also recommend reducing the exposure to triggers. So for example, if your child’s allergic rhinitis is triggered by dust and dust mites, an effective place to start is by looking at their bedroom environment. Start by removing dust collecting objects such as stuffed toys and books. You may find ‘allergy friendly’ toys at some of the larger retailers – these can be washed every week. Consider changing your child’s pillow regularly – every 3 months, or washing it in hot water to reduce the dust mites/dust mite faeces that accumulates over time. Consider purchasing a dust mite proof mattress protector and washing that every week. Some parents even find that removing carpets and curtains and replacing them with flooring and blinds is beneficial. And lastly, keep pets outside bedrooms.
So, as the saying goes, hay fever or allergic rhinitis is nothing to sneeze at. It deserves proper diagnosis and treatment so your child can be fully engaged in their activities of daily living.
Many thanks to Dr Maria Boutlon, General Practitioner at Family Doctors Plus, for this article.
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