Seasonal allergies are on the rise in the UAE. Time Out Kids speaks to Dr Mustafa Al Maini, deputy medical director and chief of the Rheumatology, Allergy and Clinical Immunology Division at Mafraq Hospital to find out more
What is a seasonal allergy? How’s it different to other allergies? Seasonal allergies depend on the environment and obviously the time of year – they’re often caused by pollen. Year round allergies are caused by irritants that are present with us all the time, such as dust mites. Currently we don’t have what we call a ‘pollen map’ – this is something we need to establish in the UAE in general. The reason that seasonal allergies are increasing here is because of the plants that are imported from other parts of the world. We are now seeing more unusual allergies here that we would never have seen in the past, such as ragweed, for example, a plant that is normally only found in the US.
What are the symptoms of a seasonal allergy? In general we’d be concerned about the child’s respiratory system and their breathing. We call it the ‘one tube theory’ – basically, your breathing starts through the nose, and ends up in the lungs, which is the way the allergen travels. Initially, any symptoms will usually happen in the upper airway, along with itchy, watery eyes, and a runny or blocked nose. In extreme cases, this can also cause an itchy throat or ears. Sometimes the inflammation can become so severe that the sinuses get blocked, and kids will develop a condition called sinusitis. Untreated, this can move down to the lungs, which can develop into asthma.
How do we treat allergies in children? First, we need to ensure that their symptoms are indeed related to allergies. Secondly, we need to work out what the child is actually allergic to, because prevention is much more important than the treatment.
A lot of kids will try to hide the fact they have dogs when they come to see me – it’s very hard on the children if this is the cause of their allergy, but families really do need to address this issue, as it is preventable.
If they’re allergic to dustmites, you’ll need to regularly clean out the air condititioning and the ducts to keep them at bay.
For seasonal allergies, it’s more difficult – you can’t stop a child going to the park, for example. We have the option of giving them antihistamines during the season, or if it affects their upper or lower airway, we can give them an inhaler. There is no one prescription that suits every child.
The new types of anti-histamines are very good these days. There are two types – drowsy and non-drowsy. If they have symptoms at night, it’s good to take the drowsy variety as it will help them sleep more comfortably.