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When Your Child Has Nasal Allergies (Allergic Rhinitis)

When Your Child Has Nasal Allergies (Allergic Rhinitis)

Man and boy talking to doctor.

Nasal allergies are also called allergic rhinitis. Rhinitis is a reaction that occurs in the nose. It happens when irritants or allergens in the air trigger the body to make histamine. Histamine causes itching and inflammation. It also causes mucus to be made in the nose and sinus linings and eyelids.

Children with nasal allergies are sensitive to one or more substances in the air. Some children have allergies that come and go with the seasons (hay fever). Others may have allergies all year long. These allergies can cause your child to lose sleep and feel tired. Your child may have trouble paying attention in school. It's important that you and your child’s healthcare provider make a plan to help keep your child’s allergies under control.

What are the types of nasal allergies?

The 2 types of nasal allergies are:

  • Seasonal. This type occurs mainly during pollen seasons.

  • Perennial. This type occurs throughout the year.

What causes nasal allergies?

Nasal allergies are often caused by one or more of these:

  • Dust mites (tiny bugs that live in carpets, bedding, stuffed toys, and other fabric items)

  • Pollen from grasses, trees, and weeds

  • Cockroaches

  • Animal dander from furry or feathered pets or other animals

  • Mold

  • Insect venom

  • Tobacco smoke

  • Certain foods, chemicals, and medicines

There is often a family history of nasal allergies.

What are the symptoms of nasal allergies?

Symptoms of nasal allergies can be mild or severe. Your child may have:

  • Sneezing

  • Runny (clear drainage) or stuffy nose

  • Itchy, watery, red, or swollen eyes

  • Itchy nose, throat, and ears

  • Nosebleeds

  • Cough from mucus dripping down the back of the throat (postnasal drip)

  • Sore throat

  • Wheezing

  • Dark circles under the eyes

  • Face pressure or pain

  • Frequent ear or sinus infections

  • Snoring

  • Poor performance in school

These symptoms may look like other health problems. Always see your child's healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How are nasal allergies diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider will ask about your child's past health. He or she will also do a physical exam. Your child may be referred to an allergist. This is a healthcare provider who specializes in allergy skin testing. Skin or blood tests help identify which allergens your child is most sensitive to. This helps you and your child’s healthcare provider make a good treatment plan.

How are nasal allergies treated?

Limiting your child’s exposure to allergens is a vital part of treatment. Talk with your child's healthcare provider about the best way to limit your child’s contact with things that cause his or her allergies. Your healthcare provider may also suggest one or more medicines, such as:

  • Antihistamines. These ease itching, sneezing, and a runny nose. They can be used on their own or along with steroid nasal sprays. You can buy many antihistamines in stores. Others are prescribed. Certain antihistamines can make your child sleepy. Always talk with your child's healthcare provider or allergist before giving over-the-counter medicine.

  • Steroid nasal sprays. These help reduce swelling. They also ease itching and sneezing. They aren’t the same as the decongestant nasal sprays you buy in the store. Steroid nasal sprays are often used each day to prevent symptoms.

  • Other medicines. Healthcare providers sometimes give other medicines, such as leukotriene inhibitors, cromolyn sodium, or allergy eye drops.

  • Allergy shots (immunotherapy). Allergy shots have tiny amounts of the substances your child is allergic to, such as pollen or dust mites. The shots may make your child less sensitive to these allergens. The shots are given in your child's healthcare provider’s office. They won’t work unless your child gets them regularly, often for years. Another type of immunotherapy is called sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT). It is given under the tongue in the form of tablets or drops. It can be done at home. Ask your child's healthcare provider or allergist if SLIT or allergy shots is the best treatment for your child's allergy.

Irritants make nasal allergies worse

Irritants don’t cause nasal allergies. But they can make symptoms worse. Common irritants are:

  • Cigarette smoke

  • Perfume

  • Aerosol sprays

  • Smoke from wood stoves or fireplaces

  • Car exhaust 

  • Pets

When to call your child's healthcare provider

Call your child's healthcare provider if he or she has any of these:

  • Trouble breathing

  • Wheezing

  • Frequent headaches

  • Fever and greenish or yellowish drainage from the nose

  • Worsening of allergy symptoms

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