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November 21, 2011 5:28 pm
Children are magnets for colds. But when the “cold” won’t go away for weeks, the culprit may be allergies. Long-lasting sneezing with a stuffy or runny nose may signal the presence of allergic rhinitis—the collection of symptoms that affect the nose when you have an allergic reaction to something you breathe in that lands on the lining inside the nose.
Allergies may be seasonal or they can strike year-round (perennial). In most parts of the United States, plant pollens are often the cause of seasonal allergic rhinitis—more commonly called hay fever. Indoor substances, such as mold, dust mites, and pet dander, may cause the perennial kind.
Up to 40% of children suffer from allergic rhinitis, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). And children are more likely to develop allergies if one or both parents have allergies.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates both over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medicines that offer allergy relief as well as allergen extracts used to diagnose and treat allergies.
Immune System Reaction
An allergy is a reaction of the immune system to a specific substance, or allergen. The immune system responds to the invading allergen by releasing histamine and other chemicals that typically trigger symptoms in the nose, lungs, throat, sinuses, ears, eyes, skin, or stomach lining, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. In some children, allergies can also trigger symptoms of asthma—a disease that causes wheezing or difficulty breathing.
Avoiding the Culprit
If your child has seasonal allergies, you may want to pay attention to pollen counts and try to keep your child inside when the levels are high.
• In the late summer and early fall, during ragweed pollen season, pollen levels are highest in the morning.
• In the spring and summer, during the grass pollen season, pollen levels are highest in the evening.
• Some molds, another allergy trigger, may also be seasonal. For example, leaf mold is more common in the fall.
• Sunny, windy days can be especially troublesome for pollen allergy sufferers.
It may also help to keep windows closed in your house and car, and run the air conditioner when pollen counts are high.
For most children, symptoms may be controlled by avoiding the allergen, if known, and using OTC medicines. However, if a child’s symptoms are persistent and not relieved by OTC medicines, it is wise to see a health care professional to assess your child’s symptoms and see if other treatments, including prescription medicines, may be appropriate.
While some allergy medicines are approved for use in children as young as six months, Dianne Murphy, M.D., director of FDA’s Office of Pediatric Therapeutics, cautions, “Always read the label to make sure the product is appropriate for your child’s age. Just because a product’s box says that it is intended for children does not mean it is intended for children of all ages."
Children who don't respond to either OTC or prescription medications, or who suffer from frequent complications of allergic rhinitis, may be candidates for allergen immunotherapy—commonly known as allergy shots. According to NIAID, about 80% of people with allergic rhinitis will see their symptoms and need for medicine drop significantly within a year of starting allergy shots.
After allergy testing, typically by skin testing to detect what allergens your child may react to, a health care professional injects the child with “extracts”—small amounts of the allergens that trigger a reaction. The doses are gradually increased so that the body builds up immunity to these allergens.
Allergen extracts are manufactured from natural substances, such as pollens, insect venoms, animal hair, and foods. More than 1,200 extracts are licensed by FDA.
For more information, visit www.fda.gov.
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