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Tackling Spring: Allergic Rhinitis

Even though it’s commonly known as ‘hay fever’, allergic rhinitis is not triggered by hay and does not cause fever, Dr Jinan Harith Darwish explains more.

If your child’s stuffy nose and cough lasts more than one or two weeks he/she most likely has more than just a cold or flu. Allergic rhinitis is the most common childhood ailment caused by allergies. In children, allergic rhinitis is relatively uncommon before the age of three years and increases in frequency thereafter, reaching peak prevalence in adolescence.

Allergic rhinitis is an allergic condition like asthma, meaning it tends to be a response to certain types of outside substances. One of the ways the body overreacts is by producing antibodies that signal your immune system to release histamine and other substances. These chemicals cause the symptoms of allergic rhinitis. These include frequent bouts of sneezing, a runny and blocked nose, itchy ears, the throat and roof of the mouth become red, itchy and swollen, watery eyes and headaches. Allergic rhinitis can either be seasonal or year-round.

May-2015_Wellbeing1_1The most easily recognised form of allergic rhinitis occurs in a typical seasonal pattern, referred to as seasonal allergic rhinitis or hay fever. Perennial allergic rhinitis appears year-round. This condition is most common in individuals with allergies to indoor allergens which are present all year but often less dramatic and therefore more difficult to diagnose. Naturally, people who are allergic to house dust mites or to their own pets tend to suffer, no matter the season.

In most people, an allergen – something that triggers an allergy – sets their symptoms off at about the same time each year. Spring attacks are usually due to tree pollen, while grass pollens dominate in the summer and weed pollens in the autumn. Most people with allergic rhinitis are sensitive to more than one allergen.

The best way to prevent allergic rhinitis is to avoid the allergen. But this is easier said than done, as it is not always possible to control the environment or to eliminate or avoid allergens, especially those that are airborne. If you cannot avoid your child’s outdoor activities, then try to avoid peak times when the pollen count is higher. This usually happens between 5am and 10am, so allow your child to play sports in the afternoon to avoid discomfort.

Treatment for mild symptoms is usually antihistamines taken orally. A corticosteroid nose spray can be tried if antihistamines are not working. An anticholinergic nose spray may also be used to help reduce runny nose symptoms.

If allergen avoidance and medical treatment for allergic rhinitis are not effective, allergen immunotherapy may be an option. Allergen immunotherapy is also known as desensitisation, hyposensitisation, or simply as allergy shots. Small amounts of the allergen are injected regularly while slowly increasing the dosage. The hope is that the immune reaction becomes weaker and weaker as the body gets used to the presence of the allergen. Immunotherapy in itself carries the risk of anaphylaxis and should only be done by an allergist.

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