Dear Dr. Markel,
“My eight year old son has moderate hay fever. This time of year for the past two his nose runs, his little eyes glaze over and he sneezes and/or coughs continuously. He’s always rubbing his eyes and sticking his fingers in his ears because they “itch.” I’m also noticing that every spring he has a hard time in school, which is making me concerned that it is effecting his learning too. I don’t want to put him on medication, but I don’t want to see him suffer or fall behind in school either. Any advise what I can do to alleviate his discomfort?” — Pam
Allergies are an incorrect response on the part of the immune system, which recognizes substances such as pollen as foreign invaders to the body. When it comes in contact with these substances that would be otherwise harmless, the immune system has an unexpected hypersensitive reaction.
Allergic rhinitis, which is affecting your son, is commonly known as hay fever, and it is the most common chronic childhood disease. Allergic illnesses are usually not life threatening, but they do put a strain on public health resources, work and school productivity, and the quality of life of the individuals concerned.
Two signs of allergic rhinitis in children are “allergic shiners” (dark circles under the eyes caused by increased blood flow near the sinuses) and the “allergic salute” (an upward movement of the hand against the nose that over time causes a crease mark on the nose). As described in your son, these are often accompanied by runny nose, cough due to post-nasal drip, watery eyes, and itchy eyes, nose, and throat.
Because of limited exposure to the environment, there are few things to which infants may be allergic, but once a child gets older, exposure to outside allergens, such as tree pollen, weeds, or grasses increases his chances of developing seasonal allergies because he spends more time outdoors.
Although many drugs are effective in treating allergies once they occur, many parents such as yourself prefer not to rely solely on drug treatments for allergies and prefer a more preventive approach.
You can take steps to reduce the occurrence of environmental allergens in your home by making such modifications as using zippered, plastic covers on pillows and mattresses and washing your bedding weekly in hot water. These steps can avoid the accumulation and continued exposure to pollen which comes into the home on a daily basis. Optimally, carpets, upholstered furniture, or objects that collect dust should be removed from your son’s bedroom.
Dietary measures can help. Foods high in antioxidants protect against allergies because the antioxidants scavenge potentially harmful molecules called free radicals from the body. Free radicals can cause oxidative tissue damage, which triggers inflammation and problems like allergies and asthma.
- Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant. Various fruits and vegetables such as oranges, apples, strawberries, grapefruit, cantaloupe, fresh tomatoes, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts are good sources of vitamin C.
- Vitamin E also acts as an antioxidant. Tree nuts are a particularly good source.
- Resveratrol is a powerful antioxidant found in peanuts and the skin of grapes.
- The omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, found in cold-water fish and algae sources, are anti-inflammatory. Wild salmon, mackerel, trout, herring, sardines, and albacore tuna are good sources of marine omega-3 fatty acids. (Be mindful of concerns about mercury contamination when consuming fish.)
- Avoid foods with partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats); these cause inflammation, making allergy symptoms worse.
It is understandable that you want to avoid medical treatment of your son’s allergies Prevention methods described above are always the first line of defense for these conditions. However, if symptoms are interfering with your child’s lifestyle (school, sports, play) then seek proper medical advice from your pediatrician or allergy-and-asthma specialist. With appropriate education, prevention, and treatment, allergy symptoms can be well controlled.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Susan Markel, M.D. is a board-certified pediatrician who has a private consultative practice specializing in parent coaching and child health. A graduate of Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, Dr. Markel became a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics in 1981 and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) in 1997. For many years she served as a medical liaison for La Leche League and is the author of What Your Pediatrician Doesn’t Know Can Hurt Your Child.
All health and wellness related information shared on Hilltown Families is for entertainment purposes only and should not be used to substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis.