Your child has been diagnosed with allergic rhinitis, a physiological response to specific allergens such as pet dander or ragweed. The symptoms are fairly simple — a runny nose (rhinitis), watery eyes, and some periodic sneezing. The best solution is to administer over-the-counter antihistamine, and the problem will resolve on its own ….right?
Not really – the interrelated structures of the ears, nose, and throat can cause certain medical problems which trigger additional disorders – all with the possibility of serious consequences.
Simple hay fever can lead to long term problems in swallowing, sleeping, hearing, and breathing. Let’s see what else can happen to a child with a case of hay fever.
One of children’s most common medical problems is otitis media, or middle ear infection. These infections are especially common in early childhood. They are even more common when children suffer from allergic rhinitis (hay fever) as well. Allergic inflammation can cause swelling in the nose and around the opening of the Eustachian tube (ear canal). This swelling has the potential to interfere with drainage of the middle ear. When bacteria laden discharge clogs the tube, infection is more likely.
The hay fever allergens may lead to the formation of too much mucus which can make the nose run or drip down the back of the throat, leading to “post-nasal drip.” It can lead to cough, sore throats, and husky voice. Although more common in older people and in dry inland climates, thick, dry mucus can also irritate the throat and be hard to clear. Air conditioning, winter heating, and dehydration can aggravate the condition. Paradoxically, antihistamines will do so as well. Some newer antihistamines do not produce dryness.
Chronic nasal obstruction is a frequent symptom of seasonal allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and perennial (year-round) allergic rhinitis. This allergic condition may have a debilitating effect on the nasal turbinates, the small, shelf-like, bony structures covered by mucous membranes (mucosa). The turbinates protrude into the nasal airway and help to warm, humidify, and cleanse air before it reaches the lungs. When exposed to allergens, the mucosa can become inflamed. The blood vessels inside the membrane swell and expand, causing the turbinates to become enlarged and obstruct the flow of air through the nose. This inflammation, or rhinitis, can cause chronic nasal obstruction that affects individuals during the day and night.
Enlarged turbinates and nasal congestion can also contribute to headaches and sleep disorders such as snoring and obstructive sleep apnea, because the nasal airway is the normal breathing route during sleep. Once turbinate enlargement becomes chronic, it is irreversible except with surgical intervention.
Allergic rhinitis can cause enough inflammation to obstruct the openings to the sinuses. Consequently, a bacterial sinus infection occurs. The disease is similar for children and adults. Children may or may not complain of pain. However, in acute sinusitis, they will often have pain and typically have fever and a purulent nasal discharge. In chronic sinusitis, pain and fever are not evident. Some children may have mood or behavior changes. Most will have a purulent, runny nose and nasal congestion even to the point where they must mouth breathe. The infected sinus drains around the Eustachian tube, and therefore many of the children will also have a middle ear infection.
Seasonal allergic rhinitis may resolve after a short period. Administration of the proper over-the-counter antihistamines may alleviate the symptoms. However, if your child suffers from perennial (year round) allergic rhinitis, an examination by specialist will assist in preventing other ear, nose, and throat problems from occurring.