By Drs. Sally Robinson and Keith Bly

It's officially springtime - the weather is getting warmer, birds are singing, flowers are blooming. And if your child has springtime allergies, her nose is more than likely beginning to run.
 
Allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, is common in infants and children, but the condition is inherited from their parents: if one parent has allergies, a child has a one in four chance of having allergies. If both parents have allergies, the chances increase to three out of four.

Seasonal allergies usually develop around age 5. Asthma is an early sign of developing allergies and is usually diagnosed between age 1 and 3.

Common symptoms of hay fever include a stuffy or runny nose with clear drainage, sneezing, itchy eyes and nose, sore throat and a cough. Children with allergic rhinitis may also develop dark circles under the eyes caused by nasal congestion, known as "allergic shiners."

Hay fever is caused by pollen and is one of the most widespread allergies. While some types of allergic reactions can be prevented - for example, you can prevent an allergic reaction to certain foods, medicines or animals by simply avoiding them - pollen is in the air, and there is no easy way to avoid it.

Short of moving to an area where the pollen count is not as high, you can reduce the severity of seasonal allergies by limiting exposure to pollen. For example, symptoms of pollen allergy may not be as serious if you keep windows closed in the car and at home, limit outdoor activities when pollen counts are highest (in the morning, for example), use a clothes dryer or hang clothes inside instead of outside, bathe daily, and dust and vacuum your house frequently. But it is often impossible or impractical to stay indoors, so medication is the normal treatment for pollen allergy.

Common allergy medications include decongestants, antihistamines and steroids. If symptoms are mild, over-the-counter medications may be used. However, you should be aware that over-the-counter antihistamines may cause drowsiness.

Antihistamines block substances that are released when the body reacts to pollen or other allergens. They relieve sneezing, itching, runny nose and eye symptoms, but they do not relieve congestion.

Decongestants shrink inflamed tissues in the nose, open up air passages and reduce pressure in the sinuses, but they provide only temporary relief. Anti-inflammatory nasal sprays also reduce nasal inflammation and they work in the nose.

If over-the-counter medications don't work, your pediatrician may give your child prescription medication. Many of the newer medicines don't cause drowsiness and are prescribed for daily use. They won't work as well if used only on an as-needed basis.

If your child's symptoms don't improve with prescribed medication, your pediatrician may suggest that your child visit an allergy specialist, or that she should begin receiving allergy shots. Allergy shots are injections of substances that you are allergic to.

Whatever method you choose to treat your child's allergy symptoms, it is important to treat them early to avoid more serious conditions, such as asthma, sinus infections and ear infections.
Dr. Sally Robinson is a pediatrician in the division of children's special services at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. She teaches medical students about caring for children with chronic medical conditions. Dr. Keith Bly is a hospitalist and assistant professor of pediatrics at UTMB.

The Your Health column is written by health and medical experts at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. The column focuses on topical health issues that we believe are of interest to your readers. It is e-mailed every Tuesday. If you have any questions about the column, or would like to suggest topics, please contact John Koloen, media relations specialist, at (409) 772-8790 or email jskoloen@utmb.edu.