HAY FEVER — or seasonal allergic rhinitis — is a body-blow for children.
The spectrum of symptoms includes streaming eyes and nose, nasal congestion, tickling sensation when breathing, sneezing, swollen eyes and itchy palate, throat, eyes and nose. “Itching caused by hay fever leads children to rub their noses upwards, causing a nasal crease — it’s called the allergic salute,” says Dr Basil Elnazir, consultant in general and respiratory paediatrics at the National Children’s Hospital.
Hay fever is often viewed as a trivial problem, which adds to the woes of the estimated 25% of Irish school-children who suffer from the condition, says Dublin-based consultant respiratory and allergy specialist Dr Peter Greally.
“People say it’s not life-threatening and it only lasts four months. In reality, it quite impairs the child’s life. It can interfere with sleep, appetite, school performance.”
In Ireland, hay fever often kicks in during April and lasts until August, peaking in the last fortnight of June. Some experts argue that it appears as early as mid-March. The main culprit is grass pollen, especially Timothy grass.
Most allergic conditions improve with age, but if the child had persistent hay fever last season, Dr Greally recommends starting treatment early — before symptoms have appeared — with a nasal steroid spray, as well as a long-lasting, non-sedating anti-histamine.
“Some over-the-counter anti-histamines cause drowsiness,” he warns.
He advises taking the medication in the morning so it’s effective through the day and to prevent inflammation building up in nasal passages.
Decongestant sprays can be good for blocked, stuffy noses, but asthma nurse specialist with the Asthma Society of Ireland Frances Guiney warns that these should only be used occasionally.
“You’ve got a few days’ window of opportunity — otherwise you risk rebound symptoms.”
In severe cases there’s allergen-specific immuno therapy, adds Dr Elnazir.
* In June, the Asthma Society of Ireland launches a free asthma management iPhone application with pollen forecast.
* Pollen forecasts will also be available on www.asthmasociety.ie.
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