December is upon us. It’s the most wonderful time of the year, and with it comes our Bahamian version of winter, complete with sporadic cool weather, cute boots, and runny noses. The sounds of birds chirping in the morning have now been replaced by your child’s sneezing fits and “haulin’ up” and, as you watch him try to rub his nose off his face, because of all the itching, you wonder why your child gets this cold every single time the weather changes. The truth is, your child’s symptoms – sneezing, congestion, and runny nose – may not be a cold at all, but more likely seasonal allergies (allergic rhinitis).
Seasonal allergies, or seasonal allergic rhinitis, are allergy symptoms that happen during certain times of the year, usually when exposure to outdoor allergens is increased. The immune systems of people with seasonal allergies treat these allergens as invaders and release chemicals, including histamine, into the bloodstream to defend against them. It’s the release of these chemicals that causes allergy symptoms.
Seasonal allergies can start at almost any age and is one of the more common reasons parents bring their child to the pediatrician during “Bahamian winter”. Symptoms can include sneezing; itchy nose and/or throat; nasal congestion; clear, runny nose and coughing, with symptoms being worse early in the morning or in the evening. Kids with seasonal allergies can also have itchy, watery, and/or red eyes, which is called allergic conjunctivitis or even wheezing and shortness of breath, indicative of asthma.
The pattern of symptoms with seasonal allergies returns year after year making this condition easily identifiable. If you think your child has seasonal allergies, talk with your pediatrician. Be prepared to answer questions about your child’s symptoms and when they appear. Your pediatrician will be able to make a diagnosis based on your answers and a physical exam.
One of the most important parts of treating seasonal allergies is minimizing exposure to triggers. Limit exposure to the cool air outside and dust inside. This can be done by keeping windows closed and removing sources of dust like stuffed animals, curtains and carpets from the home. If reducing exposure isn’t possible, or is ineffective, your pediatrician can prescribe medicines to help ease allergy symptoms. These may include decongestants, antihistamines, and nasal spray steroids.
One thing your pediatrician will not prescribe for seasonal allergies is antibiotics – so, don’t even ask. Antibiotics are reserved for bacterial infections like bacterial pneumonia or a bacterial sinusitis. Both of these conditions would cause your child to have a fever (temperature of 100.4 F or higher) and cause them to appear much sicker than seasonal allergies ever could. Many parents mistake seasonal allergy symptoms for a cold or flu, but these conditions are also associated with fever. One thing they have in common with seasonal allergies, is that they don’t require antibiotics either since they are caused by viral infections.
It’s important to remember that there are a number of reasons for runny noses this time of year. Remember, your pediatrician is a valuable resource for helping you raise happy and healthy kids. Talk with them to find out what the cause of your child’s runny nose is and how to get your child (and yourself) some relief.
• Dr. Tamarra Moss is a pediatrician committed to helping you raise happy and healthy kids. You can find her at Dr. Carlos Thomas & Pediatric Associates in New Providence, Lucayan Medical Center in Grand Bahama, or on Instagram @mykidsdoc242.