Runny nose, sneezing, coughing? It may not be the flu, your child might have dust allergy Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Small sniffles, and a tiny sneeze - the moment I notice my child showing these symptoms, my guard goes up. I am extra alert if there is a weather alert out for sandstorms like there is one for this week. Why? My son is allergic to dust and often falls terribly sick if I ignore it early.

I am not one for running with my kid to the ER (Emergency Room) every time he sneezes or runs a slight fever. If it isn't an emergency, I prefer to wait it out a few days and let his immunity fight it out. But, for the longest time, I could not understand the reason behind his constant upper-respiratory infections. It was only after a pediatrician explained to me a few years ago that his allergy to dust was triggering hay fever, which, when left untreated can lead to some serious chest infections.

Common allergens that can trigger hay fever symptoms include dust, pollen, and dust mites.

Hay fever itself is not an infection. Dr Saied Al Habas, a UAE-based ENT consultant-endoscopist at Medcare Multi-speciality hospital, Sharjah, explained: "Allergies and infections have different ontologies, they are not the same thing. However, long and untreated symptoms of allergies or hay fever, sometimes, create a good environment for infection. Many people in the UAE have dust mite allergies. It causes nasal congestion, inflammation, and decreases the draining of the sinus. This can lead to an infection."

Hay fever, also called allergic rhinitis, causes cold-like symptoms. These may include a runny nose, itchy eyes, congestion, sneezing, and sinus pressure. But unlike a cold, hay fever isn't caused by a virus. Hay fever is caused by an allergic response to a harmless outdoor or indoor substance the body identifies as harmful (allergen).

So, here are some things I did to address my child's dust allergies.

1) Face masks

The one change that COVID-19 brought with it was the increased use of face masks. For me, this not only kept my child safe from coronavirus but also reduced his episodes of hay fever. It's not surprising to find dust and sand across the UAE, considering the topography of the area. The use of face masks outdoors meant my child's exposure to dust was reduced.

2) Eliminate dust catchers in your house

One of the most important things you can do is identify things that collect dust and remove them from your house. I removed unwanted old stuffed toys and extra unused cushions from my home. Every few days, I wipe down things like cloth-covered furniture, heavy drapes, houseplants, bookshelves, and blinds with a wet cloth.

I switched to blankets and bedding that are machine-washable. We wash bed sheets, pillowcases, and other bedding regularly. I also remove extra blankets and pillows that my child did not need.

In his room, I use a plastic and metal chair instead of an upholstered one.

I switched to lightweight curtains and mats (like bathroom and kitchen mats) that can be machine washed regularly, as fine dust may settle on them. And, we regularly vacuum any rugs in the house, with baking soda.

3) Keep the antihistamine medication at hand

Another thing that really helps me is my son's bottle of antihistamine medication. These are available over the counter at most pharmacies across the UAE. Consult your child's doctor to find out which drug suits him or her the best.

As soon as I see symptoms of hay fever in my son, I give him the recommended dosage of antihistamine. This has reduced his visits to the doctor.

4) Inform your child's school teacher

After taking all these precautions, there is one place I can't control the dust around him - when he is at school. For this, whenever there is a dust alert, I email his teacher requesting her to let him stay indoors for any outdoor activity scheduled for the day.

I also spoke to him and made him understand the need to keep his mask on, if he doesn't want to fall sick and stay in bed, while his friends get to play outdoors.

5) Seek medical help 

When parents notice symptoms of hay fever, Dr. Al Habas suggests: "Parents should take the child for an allergen test that will confirm the diagnosis.

"Parents can do a lot, they can use anti-mite covers on furnitures in their rooms, improve the aeration of their home, install air purifiers," he added.

Dr. Maharoof P. Purayil, a Specialist Paediatrician with Aster Clinics, Dubai told Gulf News: "Allergic rhinitis is one of the commonest conditions in children and gives them sleepless nights. You have to find out the definitive reason behind the symptom. Most commonly it's house dust allergy, very often caused by house dust mites. Once you do allergy-specific tests to find out what's causing the allergy, we have definite treatements."

In mild to moderate cases, Dr. Purayil said that children are prescribed anti-allergic medication and immune modilators. In more severe cases, a mild intranasal steroid is prescribed with allergic medication.

However, he adds that taking preventive care is very important. "Parents can ensure allergen free bedding and bedsheets and avoid allergen trapped surfaces, which collect dust. To an extent, humidifiers air purifier and humidifiers also help. Finding the exact cause and definitive treamtent with a pediatric allergist will help cure the problem."