Sue Hubbard, M.D.

Spring is the season for allergic rhinitis (inflammation of the nasal passages), triggered largely by tree pollens and grasses as spring blows in. Allergy symptoms affect about 1 in 5 people, and the first symptoms often begin in childhood.

Children typically develop symptoms of allergic rhinitis between the ages of 3 and 4.

Many of these kids might have shown symptoms of eczema (atopic dermatitis) and asthma at even younger ages. If one parent has allergies, there's a 40-50 percent chance that their child may also be allergic, and if two allergic persons marry (guess you should ask about that while dating!), there's a 70-80 percent chance their children will also be allergic.

It also seems that early exposure to cigarette smoke, cat dander and house dust mites may promote other allergic symptoms later in life (another great reason not to smoke if you have children).

The most common symptoms of an allergy are complaints of an itchy nose, watery and red eyes, sneezing, runny nose (typically clear), post nasal drip and cough. These symptoms are brought on by the release of histamines in the body after exposure to an allergen, such as inhaled pollen. While allergic symptoms have been labeled "hay fever," this is an inappropriate term, as allergies do not cause a fever and the child is not necessarily allergic to hay.

Different pollens are responsible for allergic symptoms at different times of the year.

Children who develop seasonal allergies have several characteristic physical manifestations. They may develop allergic "shiners," which are darkened areas beneath the lower eyelid due to swelling. They also often have a crease across their nasal bridge (termed the allergic salute), which occurs due to constant rubbing of the nose.

I often see children with allergies rub their eyes while being examined, and they often have a clear, watery nasal discharge. Some will also have a cough and may even be wheezing. They often look uncomfortable rather than sick, as with a cold.

There are many different treatment options for controlling allergic rhinitis.

The first is to control the environment as much as possible by closing windows and turning on the AC so airborne allergens don't blow into the house.

After your children have been playing outdoors, have them shower to remove pollen from their hair and body (not a favorite pastime for little boys). You can also watch the pollen count for your area and limit a child's time outdoors on especially high pollen count days.

Dr. Sue Hubbard is a nationally known pediatrician and co-host of "The Kid's Doctor" radio show.


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Health - Allergy Season Has Arrived: Protect Your Kids As Spring Blows In