We love the wide variety of flowers, plants, and trees in Malawi! Unfortunately, the pollen can often bring with it seasonal allergies. Rainy season also increases the risk of mold that can be a seasonal allergen.
Seasonal allergies are characterized by allergy symptoms that come at certain times of the year, triggered by the release of your allergen. A good way to know if you have seasonal allergies is if you have a cold like symptoms at the same time every year.
What happens in your body
A healthy immune system recognizes a foreign substance and works hard to rid the body of this foreign invader. With allergies, your body has an exaggerated response to the foreign substance. The body will release histamines that cause different reactions in the body.
Allergic rhinitis- Rhinitis just means inflamed nose. This type of allergy often results in a large amount of clear nasal discharge. (I’m pretty sure I had this growing up as I know my nose was constantly running!) Sneezing is also quite common with allergic rhinitis.
Allergic conjunctivitis- This is characterized by red eyes caused by the conjunctiva being irritated. A lot of times people with this condition will think they have pink eye or an eye infection. A helpful way to distinguish it from the other conditions is by whether or not it itches. Allergic conjunctivitis is almost always itchy. When kids are rubbing their eyes they could also scratch their eye. So, if the eyes become painful and they can’t open them, then they need to be evaluated by an eye doctor.
Cough or Asthma- We know that asthma, allergies, and eczema are family members. Sometimes pollen, mold, dust, and other allergens can trigger a child’s asthma. So, some children might experience the wheezing and coughing characteristic of asthma during certain times of the year. If that’s the case, your child needs to be examined for possible asthma.
The first goal of treatment is to try to identify the allergen. Most limited resource settings don’t have allergy testing, so it becomes a matter of observation. I encourage parents to keep a record of allergy symptoms and what there child could have been exposed to. It’s helpful to know that pets, insect droppings, pollen, dust, and mold are common allergens.
Next, try to eliminate the allergen. If you don’t really know what the allergen is, then you can try to make changes to the environment and see if you see symptoms lessening. If you have a cat or dog, then wash all of the bedding and keep them out of your child’s room. See if that makes a difference. Look for sources of mold and wash well with bleach. For pollen, see what plants are around the house. If possible, close all of the windows and use air conditioning.
For kids in Malawi there are only a few options for medical treatment for allergies.
Ceterizine (Zyrtec) syrup is a long acting anti-histamine that shouldn’t make your child sleepy. It should be taken the same time each day.
Docoff Pediatric is a cough syrup sold in Malawi. The active ingredient is diphenhydramine (Benadryl). This is a first-generation anti-histamine, meaning that it crosses the blood brain barrier and can make your child sleepy. It will also dry up secretions. This may be helpful for short term relief for the child that has a constant runny, itchy nose. It’s not the best long-term options.
Because the annoying allergy symptoms are caused by the release of histamines, it’s best to take these medicines before the histamines are released. To get the full effect of Ceterizine, it should be taken daily.
We have one brand of inhaled nasal steroids in Malawi that can be used for allergies. You need to see a doctor if you feel like your child needs this.
The good news about seasonal allergies, is that the medicine can be stopped when the allergen is no longer a big issue. Dry season might be kinder to many of those that struggle with the moldy wet season allergens.