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For the parent of a young baby or toddler, it's easy to miss the signs of nasal allergies.

"A lot of parents don't realize," says Neeta Ogden, MD, an allergist in Closter, N.J. "They assume that the constant runny nose and sneezing are just what happens when a child's exposed to day care germs."

While allergies in kids are underdiagnosed, the good news is that treatment really works. With medical care, your baby or toddler will not only feel better, but you could head off complications in the future, says Kenneth Bock, MD, pediatric neurotoxicologist and codirector of the Rhinebeck Health Center in Rhinebeck, N.Y.

Has your kid spent a lot of her life sneezing and drippy-nosed? Here's what you should know about nasal allergies in kids.

Nasal Allergies in Kids

While allergies are the most common chronic disease in children, some pediatricians won't diagnose nasal allergies in kids until they're age 4 or 5, Ogden says. The conventional wisdom is that it takes a number of years before a true allergy can develop.

However, the waiting rooms of pediatric allergists tell a different story. "I see a lot of kids who are age 3 with signs of nasal allergies," says Ogden. "I see some who are as young as 2."

The symptoms of nasal allergies in kids include:

  • Runny and itchy nose
  • Congestion
  • Frequent sneezing
  • Chronic cough
  • Red, watery eyes
  • Allergic shiners -- dark rings under the eyes
  • Mouth breathing, especially while asleep
  • Exhaustion, because of poor sleep quality
  • Symptoms that last longer than a couple of weeks

The problems with nasal allergies in kids go well beyond a runny nose.  The constant congestion can lead to frequent sinus infections and ear infections. "Some kids have so many ear infections that they can't hear well," says Ogden. "That can lead to developmental delays."

Nasal allergies in kids are often linked with two other allergic conditions: eczema and asthma. In many kids, it starts with itchy patches of eczema as infants, progresses to nasal allergies as preschoolers, and then develops into asthma later.

What Causes Nasal Allergies in Children?

Kids tend to be allergic to the same things that adults are, like dust mites, pet dander, mold, and pollen. Some children also have allergies to foods, like cow's milk, that can sometimes cause nasal symptoms.

The fragrances in household products like cleaners, shampoos, detergents, and soaps an also be a problem. They may contain allergens as well as chemical irritants that worsen symptoms.

What increases the odds of allergies in kids? Some of it is genetic. "If a parent has allergies or eczema, that substantially increases the odds that their kids might have allergies too," says Ogden.

Will your child outgrow her allergies? Ogden says that many kids do outgrow early food allergies. The long view is different with allergic rhinitis, however. "The nasal symptoms might wax and wane over the years," says Ogden, "but the allergy itself tends to stick around."

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