COLUMBIA, Mo. - The calendar may read winter, but pollen season is beginning in mid-Missouri. For children suffering from allergies and asthma, the arrival of pollen season can present new difficulties for breathing and enjoying daily activities such as school and sports.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, asthma affects nearly five million American children, while allergies affect about 50 million. Common asthma symptoms include coughing, wheezing and difficulty breathing. Allergy sufferers often struggle with a runny nose, sneezing, a sore throat and itchy eyes.
Ben Francisco, PhD, a pediatric nurse practitioner at Children's Hospital and assistant research professor at MU's School of Medicine, treats children suffering from allergy and asthma problems.
"Tree pollen counts begin rising in February," said Francisco. "This time of year, parents must closely monitor their child's health. Daily medicines that prevent airway inflammation are essential during seasonal increases in pollen and mold spores. Nasal steroid sprays are the most effective defense against allergy. Inhaled steroids are the most effective defense against asthma."
Plants such as trees, grasses and weeds produced pollens at different times of the year. Tree pollens are prevalent from February to April. Grass pollens begin in May and extend into June or July, while weed pollens are worst in August and September. Increased levels of mold spores can also cause problems, especially in late summer and early fall.
Other environmental changes, such as indoor or outdoor air pollution and weather changes can trigger asthma problems in children. Children have smaller airways than adults, which makes them particularly vulnerable to seasonal changes.
When airborne triggers are present, a child's airway starts to swell and the breathing passage narrows. Daily control medications can provide long-term relief and help prevent future asthma attacks. These medications must be inhaled into the lungs daily in a special way. Initially, it takes six to 12 weeks to reduce swelling and restore the airway to normal. Then a smaller daily dose keeps up the protection year round.
"Without daily control medications, children might experience extreme difficulty breathing during an asthma episode," said Francisco. "The common cold is often the final straw that brings on serious breathing problems for the child with asthma. However, the condition was there all along. It is important that parents and children have a plan of action to open the airways when breathing is impaired."
During an asthma episode, Francisco recommends sufferers take a quick-relief medicine right away. These medicines can temporarily relax the muscles that squeeze the airways and reduce asthma symptoms. Children are also encouraged to stay calm and seek rest away from whatever is triggering their asthma. If breathing problems persist, seek medical care immediately.
For more information on caring for children with allergies or asthma, please call (573) 882-1786.
Children's Hospital is the largest and most comprehensive pediatric health care center in mid-Missouri. Housed at University Hospital and Columbia Regional Hospital, the 115-bed hospital is the only facility in mid-Missouri offering comprehensive, specialized children's services such as trauma care, neonatal transport, child life therapy, a pediatric intensive care unit and a pediatric hematology and oncology outpatient unit.