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Pediatric Allergic Rhinitis
Key points about allergic rhinitis in a child
- Rhinitis is a reaction that happens in the eyes, nose and throat. It occurs when allergens in the air trigger the release of histamine in the body.
- Allergic rhinitis can happen on a seasonal basis or year-round. There is often a family history of allergic rhinitis, eczema, asthma or allergy.
- Your child may be referred to see an allergist for allergy skin testing.
- Common causes include pollen, dust mites, mold, cockroach waste and animal dander.
- Children with other allergic diseases such as eczema, food allergy and asthma are more likely to also have allergic rhinitis.
- Treatment may include staying away from allergens and using medicines to treat symptoms.
About Allergic Rhinitis
Allergic rhinitis is a reaction that happens in the eyes, nose and throat. It occurs when allergens in the air trigger the release of histamine and other chemicals in the body. Normally allergens are harmless. But when a person has allergies, the body thinks these allergens are harmful and attacks them. Special cells called mast cells release chemicals including histamine. The chemicals irritate nearby nasal tissue. This causes nasal allergy symptoms. When this happens in the lungs' breathing tubes, it can cause asthma symptoms such as coughing and wheezing.
Allergic rhinitis can happen on a seasonal basis or year-round. There is often a family history of allergic rhinitis, eczema, asthma or food allergy.
The most common causes of allergic rhinitis in children are:
- Pollen from trees, grass or weeds
- Dust mites
- Cockroach waste
- Animal dander
Things such as strong odors and tobacco smoke can cause similar symptoms to allergic rhinitis. But these substances are irritants not allergens.
Children with other allergic diseases (such as eczema, food allergy and asthma) are more likely to also have allergic rhinitis. About 8 out of 10 children with asthma also have allergic rhinitis. For these children, allergens are a common cause of asthma attacks. Children whose parents have allergies are also at greater risk of developing allergies.
Controlling allergies may help control asthma and eczema in some children.
Each child may experience symptoms differently. Common symptoms include:
- Stuffy nose
- Runny nose
- Itchy nose, throat, eyes and ears
- Clear drainage from the nose
Children with year-round allergic rhinitis may also have these symptoms:
- Ear infections that keep coming back
- Breathing through the mouth
- Not doing well in school
- A line or crease across the bridge of the nose from often wiping or scratching the itchy nose
The symptoms of allergic rhinitis may look like other conditions or health problems. Always talk with your child’s healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
In most cases, your child’s healthcare provider makes the diagnosis based on a full health history and physical exam. During the exam, your child’s provider may also find:
- Dark circles under the eyes
- Creases under the eyes
- Swollen tissue inside the nose
If this is the case, then the provider may refer your child to see an allergist. An allergist is a healthcare provider who is trained to do allergy skin testing. This testing will tell you exactly what things are causing your child to have symptoms.
Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.
- Treatment choices may include:
- Nose sprays
- Medicines for asthma symptoms
- Allergy shots
Experts don't know how to prevent a person from developing allergic rhinitis. But you can help prevent the symptoms by:
- Controlling your child's environment, such as using air conditioning during pollen season
- Having your child stay away from areas where there is heavy dust, mites molds
- Keeping your child away from pets
Call your child’s healthcare provider if your child has:
- Symptoms that get worse
- New symptoms
Emeritus Chief, Ear, Nose, and Throat (Otolaryngology)
Director, Aerodigestive Clinic
Director, Vascular Anomalies Clinic
Director, Pediatric Otolaryngology Fellowship
Director, Pediatric Voice Program
Director, Quality Improvement and Safety
Co-Director, Complex Sinusitis Program
Division Chief, Ear, Nose, and Throat (Otolaryngology)
Co-Director, Cochlear Implant Program
Co-Director of the Cochlear Implant Program
Senior Vice President , Children’s National Hospital-Based Specialties Center
Our pediatric otolaryngology experts diagnose and treat a wide range of pediatric ear, nose and throat disorders.
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