Winter exits, spring enters, and with it come irritants in the environment that can trigger allergies in children and adults. In the U.S. alone, more than 50 million people (1 in 5) are affected by allergies — which are caused by an overactive immune system — according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Allergies in springtime often are a trigger for asthma — May is National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month — but asthma is a year-round concern for children, said Gigi Chawla, MD, Children’s senior medical director of primary care. Keeping refills for controller and rescue medications, especially with traveling, outings and school, up to date is important. Parents should ensure they’re making asthma checkups with their clinicians, at least yearly, in order to keep kids happy, healthy and under control.
Allergies and asthma are the most common chronic diseases among children in the U.S., according to the AAP. Many aspects of allergies, eczema and asthma are not fully understood. But advances in the diagnosis and treatment of these disorders are helping millions of sufferers.
What are allergies?
Many people mistakenly use the word “allergy” to refer to a disease or almost any unpleasant or adverse reaction. In reality, allergies are reactions that usually are caused by an overactive immune system. These reactions can occur in a variety of organs in the body, resulting in diseases such as asthma, hay fever and eczema.
Your immune system is made up of a number of different cells that come from organs throughout the body — principally bone marrow, the thymus gland, and a network of lymph nodes and lymph tissue scattered throughout the body, including the spleen, gastrointestinal tract, tonsils, and the adenoid (an olive-shaped structure that is located at the top of the throat behind the nose).
Normally, it’s the immune system that protects the body against disease by searching out and destroying foreign invaders, such as viruses and bacteria. In an allergic reaction, the immune system overreacts and goes into action against a normally harmless substance, such as pollen or animal dander. These allergy provoking substances are called “allergens.”
Allergy symptoms for ear, nose, throat and mouth
- Red, teary or itchy eyes
- Puffiness around the eyes
- Runny nose
- Itchy nose, nose rubbing
- Postnasal drip
- Nasal swelling and congestion
- Itchy ear canals
- Itching of the mouth and throat
- Hacking dry cough or cough that produces clear mucus
- Wheezing (noisy breathing)
- Feeling of tightness in the chest
- Low exercise tolerance
- Rapid breathing; shortness of breath
- Eczema (patches of itchy, red skin rash)
- Hives (welts)
- Feelings of restlessness, irritability
- Excessive fatigue
Where does asthma fit?
Although allergies can trigger asthma and asthma often is associated with allergies, they are two different things. In simple terms, asthma is a chronic condition originating in the lungs, whereas allergies describe reactions that originate in the immune system and can affect many organs, including the lungs. Many different substances and circumstances can trigger an asthma attack—exercise, exposure to cold air, a viral infection, air pollution, noxious fumes, tobacco smoke, and for many asthma sufferers, a host of allergens. In fact, about 80% of children with asthma also have allergies. Although allergies are important in triggering asthma, severe asthma exacerbations are often set off by the good old common cold virus, totally unrelated to allergy.
In the summertime, exercise and humidity often are triggers. In late summer-early fall, ragweed is a trigger. Come fall, weather changes and back-to-school exposure to illness can be a trigger for asthma exacerbation, and illness is the usual culprit in the winter.
Source: Guide to Your Child’s Allergies and Asthma (Copyright © 2011 American Academy of Pediatrics)