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When Sniffles are More than a Cold
By Sally Robinson, M.D. and Keith P. Bly, M.D.

Children seem to pick up colds as quickly as they latch on to the latest trendy toy. It seems that sneezing and sniffles are just a part of childhood. But when the runny nose and sneezing last longer than a week or recur
frequently, an allergic reaction could be to blame.

More than 35 million Americans suffer from some type of allergy, and in most people, these allergies first appear during infancy or childhood. Today, nearly six million children suffer from allergies, which may cause a runny nose, sniffling and sneezing, and itchy, red, watery eyes. Frequent ear infections or sinus problems are also associated with the disorder. Children with allergies often wipe their noses with an upward motion of the hand, sleep poorly and complain of being tired.

“This year’s warmer winter has created an abundance of outdoor allergens, and the onset of summer could be a particularly frustrating time for parents and children who suffer from seasonal allegeries,” said Dr. Edward
Brooks, allergy specialist at UTMB Children’s Hospital. “But identifying triggers will enable parents to make smart choices about family and school activities during this time of year.”

There are many airborne allergens that can prompt a child’s allergic symptoms, including pollen, dust mites, mold spores, food and animal dander (hair or skin particles). An allergy specialist can test your child to see what may be causing the allergies. Such testing can be done with skin tests or blood tests. Unfortunately, the tests can miss important allergies or even suggest an allergy that doesn’t exist. For these reasons, testing is
typically reserved for those with bothersome chronic symptoms or life-threatening allergic reactions. In these more serious cases, desensitization shots (also called allergy shots or immunotherapy) can be used to
help prevent or symptoms.

Brooks said that in most cases shots aren’t necessary. As much as possible, limit your child’s exposure to suspected allergens. Closing windows and running the air conditioner in warm weather, keeping pets outside
(if dander is a problem) and frequently cleaning rugs, curtains, stuffed animals and other dust catchers can help alleviate problems. Also, keep kids away from tobacco smoke as it’s likely to set off allergic attacks.

Medicines also are very useful for treating the annoying symptoms, but check with your pediatrician before using any over-the-counter allergy preparations. Prescription medicines may also be an option in some cases.

“Allergies do not mean a child is unhealthy or that he or she necessarily has to limit outdoor activities,” said Brooks. “Don’t give in to the temptation to overprotect your allergy-prone child.” If you have questions about medicines, avoiding allergens or to find about what activities your child can do, talk to your pediatrician.

This information is not intended to replace the advice of a physician. For more information, contact your pediatrician.

Dr. Sally Robinson is Professor of Pediatrics, and Dr. Keith Bly is Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston Children's Hospital. For more information, visit: www.utmb.edu


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