March 17, 2008 (Philadelphia) -- Kids' allergies are nothing to sneeze at. A first-of-its-kind national survey shows that when kids suffer nasal allergy symptoms, everything from their sleep to their schoolwork suffers as well.
In the study of more than 1,000 families, parents of kids with allergies were twice as likely to say their children's activities were limited by their health, compared with parents whose kids didn't have allergies.
Nearly three-fourths of parents of kids with allergies said their children frequently or sometimes felt tired during allergy season. Two-thirds said their kids were irritable, and more than half said their offspring were downright miserable.
"These are big numbers," says Eli O. Meltzer, MD, a pediatric allergist at the University of California, San Diego, who helped design the survey.
"The perception of [allergic] rhinitis as a disease has been underwhelming. These findings underscore the "dis-ease" children have," he tells WebMD.
The survey was presented here at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI).
How Widespread Are Allergies?
Allergic rhinitis affects about 40 million people in the U.S., including up to 40% of children, according to AAAAI.
Seasonal allergic rhinitis, better known as hay fever, most commonly hits people in the spring, when trees, grasses, weeds, and ragweed release their pollen. Perennial allergic rhinitis, which hits year-round, is triggered by common indoor allergens, such as pet dander, mold, droppings from dust mites, and cockroach particles.
If you're sensitive, your immune system views the pollen or other allergens as foreign invaders and sends an out an army of histamines. Histamines are chemicals that trigger inflammation in the sinuses, nose, and eyes.
Kids' Allergy Survey Results
For the survey, the researchers conducted lengthy phone interviews with 500 parents of kids with allergies. They also surveyed 501 parents of children without allergies.
Among the findings:
- 21% of parents said allergies limit their children's activities; only 11% of parents whose child did not suffer from allergies said health restricts their activities.
- 41% of parents said that allergies interfere "a lot or some" with their child's sleep; 8% of parents of children without allergies said health affected sleep.
- 61% of parents said their kids missed school in the past year because of allergies; 26% said the condition interferes with "doing well in school."
- 39% of parents of children without allergies said their kids missed classes because of health issues in the past 12 months, and 9% said health issues prevented them from doing well in their classes.
- 32% of parents said allergies limit their kids' participation in sports; 10% of parents of kids without allergies said health restricts their children's participation.
- Three-fourths of parents of children with allergies said their kids suffer stuffed-up noses that are "extremely to moderately bothersome." Other common -- and bothersome symptoms -- include sneezing fits, runny nose, watery eyes, and postnasal drip.
- About half of parents of kids with allergies had moderately or extremely bothersome facial pain and ear pain.
- Almost half of parents said their children use prescription medicine to treat their allergies.
The study was funded by Sepracor Inc., maker of the Omnaris nasal spray, which is used to treat allergic rhinitis.
Helping Kids With Allergies
Meltzer says that one finding that sticks out in his head is that 67% of parents said their kids' school performance isn't as good as it can be when their symptoms are bothersome, while 97% said they do well when symptoms are minimal.
"This means these kids are functioning at about two-thirds the level they should be in school," he says.
"There's a ripple effect. We have children whose overall health is compromised. We have children whose sleep is compromised. And we have children whose daytime activities are compromised," Meltzer says.
The good news, he says, is that the cycle can be broken with proper diagnosis and treatment by a doctor.
Asriani M. Chiu, MD, a pediatric allergist at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee who was not involved with the survey, says that many parents trivialize allergy symptoms, "thinking they are normal. But they are not. Parents need to bring these symptoms up with their child's doctor."
Meltzer says parents shouldn't try to intervene on their own, as many over-the-counter antihistamines used to treat allergies cause drowsiness. "This is like adding insult to injury, as allergies are already preventing a good night's sleep," he says.
His advice to parents: observe your kids over several days. "If they have a runny or stuffed-up nose, sneezing fits, and other symptoms that persist for five or seven days, it's probably not a cold. Seek care. If the symptoms are interfering with your kids' activities, seek care," he says.