Parents Guide to Allergic Rhinitis
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Allergic rhinitis is a reaction in the eyes, nose, and throat when allergens such as pollen, dust, mould or flakes of skin from certain animals trigger histamine release in the body. Histamine causes itching, swelling, and fluid to build up in the fragile linings of nasal passages, sinuses, and eyelids.
Allergic rhinitis can happen on a seasonal basis or year-round. Year-round allergic rhinitis occurs more often in younger children. There is usually a family history of allergic rhinitis.
What are the causes of allergic rhinitis in children?
The most common causes of allergic rhinitis in children are:
- Pollen from trees, grass, or weeds
- Dust mites
- Cockroach waste
- Animal dander
- Tobacco smoke
What are the symptoms of allergic rhinitis in children?
Allergic rhinitis typically causes cold-like symptoms, such as sneezing, itchiness and a blocked or runny nose.
These symptoms usually start soon after being exposed to an allergen.
Some people only get allergic rhinitis for a few months at a time because they’re sensitive to seasonal allergens, such as tree or grass pollen. Other people get allergic rhinitis all year round.
Most people with allergic rhinitis have mild symptoms that can be easily and effectively treated.
But for some people, symptoms can be severe and persistent, causing sleep problems and interfering with everyday life.
The symptoms of allergic rhinitis occasionally improve with time, but this can take many years, and it’s unlikely that the condition will disappear completely.
The following are the most common symptoms of allergic rhinitis. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
- Stuffy nose
- Runny nose
- Itchy nose, throat, eyes, and ears
- Clear drainage from the nose
Children with year-round allergic rhinitis may also have these symptoms:
- Ear infections that keep coming back
- Breathing through the mouth
- Poor performance in school
- A line or crease across the bridge of the nose from swiping the nose
The symptoms of allergic rhinitis may look like other conditions or medical problems. Always talk with your child’s health care provider for a diagnosis.
Allergic rhinitis can lead to complications in some cases. These include:
- nasal polyps – abnormal but non-cancerous (benign) sacs of fluid that grow inside the nasal passages and sinuses
- sinusitis – an infection caused by nasal inflammation and swelling that prevents mucus from draining from the sinuses
- middle ear infections – infection of part of the ear located directly behind the eardrum
These problems can often be treated with medication, although surgery is sometimes needed in severe or long-term cases.
How is allergic rhinitis in children diagnosed?
Typically, the diagnosis is made by your child’s health care provider based on a thorough medical history and physical exam. During the exam, your child’s health care provider may also find dark circles under the eyes, creases under the eyes, and swollen tissue inside the nose. If this is the case, your child’s health care provider may refer your child to see an allergist. An allergist is a doctor who is trained to do allergy skin testing. This will tell you exactly what things are causing your child to have symptoms.
How is allergic rhinitis in children treated?
Your child’s health care provider will figure out the best treatment for your child based on:
- How old your child is
- His or her overall health and medical history
- How sick he or she is
- How well your child can handle specific medications, procedures, or therapies
- How long the condition is expected to last
- Your opinion or preference
The symptoms of allergic rhinitis sometimes look like other conditions or medical problems. Therefore, always see your child’s health care provider for a diagnosis.
- Treatment options for rhinitis may include:
- AntihistaminesNose sprays
- Medicines for asthma symptoms
- Allergy shots
Who is at risk for allergic rhinitis?
Children with asthma are at a higher risk for rhinitis. Allergic rhinitis is a common problem that may be linked to asthma. However, this link is not fully understood. Experts think that since rhinitis makes it hard to breathe through the nose, it is harder for the nose to work usually. Breathing through the mouth does not warm, filter, or humidify the air before it enters the lungs. This can make asthma symptoms worse.
Controlling asthma may help prevent allergic rhinitis in some children.
Can allergic rhinitis in children be prevented?
Preventive measures for avoiding allergic rhinitis include:
- Controls in your environment, such as air conditioning during the pollen season
- Avoiding areas where there is heavy dust, mites, moulds
- Avoiding pets
When should I call my child’s healthcare provider?
If your child’s symptoms get worse or if he or she has new symptoms, call your child’s healthcare provider.
Key points about allergic rhinitis in children
Rhinitis is a reaction that happens in the eyes, nose, and throat when allergens in the air trigger histamine release in the body.
Common causes of allergic rhinitis include pollen, dust mites, mould, cockroach waste, animal dander, and tobacco smoke.
Treatment options include avoiding allergen and medicines to treat your child’s symptoms.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s health care provider:
Before your visit, write down questions you want to be answered.
At the visit, write down the names of new medicines, treatments, tests, and any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.
If your allergy is more severe or it’s not apparent what you’re allergic to, you may be referred for allergy testing at a specialist allergy clinic.
Skin prick testing
Skin prick testing is one of the most common allergy tests.
It involves putting a drop of liquid onto your forearm that contains a substance you may be allergic to. The skin under the drop is then gently pricked.
If you’re allergic to the substance, an itchy, red bump will appear within 15 minutes.
Most people find skin prick testing not particularly painful, but it can be a little uncomfortable. But, on the other hand, it’s also very safe.
Make sure you do not take antihistamines before the test, as they can interfere with the results.
Blood tests may be used instead of alongside skin prick tests to help diagnose common allergies.
A sample of your blood is removed and analysed for specific antibodies produced by your immune system in response to an allergen.
Patch tests are used to investigate a type of eczema known as contact dermatitis, which can be caused by your skin being exposed to an allergen.
A small amount of the suspected allergen is added to special metal discs, which are then taped to your skin for 48 hours and monitored for a reaction.
If you have a suspected food allergy, you may be advised to avoid eating a particular food to see if your symptoms improve.
After a few weeks, you may be asked to eat the food again to check if you have another reaction.
Do not attempt to do this yourself without discussing it with a qualified healthcare professional.
A test called a food challenge might also be used to diagnose a food allergy in a few cases.
During the test, you’re given the food you think you’re allergic to in gradually increasing amounts to see how you react under close supervision.
This test is riskier than other forms of testing, as it could cause a severe reaction, but it is the most accurate way to diagnose food allergies.
And challenge testing is always carried out in a clinic where a severe reaction can be treated if it does develop.
Allergy testing kits
The use of commercial allergy-testing kits isn’t recommended.
These tests are often of a lower standard than those provided by accredited private clinics and are generally considered to be unreliable.
Allergy tests should be interpreted by a qualified professional who has detailed knowledge of your symptoms and medical history.
An allergic reaction causes not all cases of rhinitis.
Some cases are the result of:
- an infection, such as the common cold
- oversensitive blood vessels in the nose
- overuse of nasal decongestants
This type of rhinitis is known as non-allergic rhinitis.
If you have a question or would like to share your experiences with other readers, you are welcome to join the conversation in the comments section.