High-rise homes have the highest levels of cockroach allergens

Roaches like to live high in the sky in places like Chicago, New York City and the Bronx, according to a recent study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. The study, conducted by an allergist affiliated with Children's Medical Center Dallas, found high-rise homes in Northeastern cities had the highest levels of cockroach allergens -- leading to a higher incidence of asthmatic episodes.

However, single-family homes elsewhere weren't completely vindicated from producing asthma-inducing allergens either, said Dr. Rebecca Gruchalla, an allergy-asthma specialist at Children's and a researcher at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. The study also found that single-family homes had higher levels of microscopic dust mites, which are apparently plentiful in bedding and furniture in houses around the country.

In the study, tests targeted inner-city children with moderate or severe asthma symptoms. The 937 children aged five to 11 in the study were tested for exposure to dust mite and cockroach allergens. Those who tested positive had more episodes of coughing, wheezing and chest tightness. They also slept less, missed more school and had to slow down play activities.

With spring comes pollen season, and highly allergic grasses and pollinating trees and flowers can make it difficult to figure out if your child has a cold or is suffering from allergies. This is especially true since young children usually have about eight to 10 colds a year.

"An itchy nose, clear nasal discharge and sneezing are common with allergies," said Dr. Thanai Pongdee, an asthma and allergy specialist at Children's Medical Center Dallas. "Other symptoms include itchy, watery eyes, frequent nose rubbing, throat clearing and possibly a dry cough. A cold is usually accompanied by a creamy, yellow or green nasal discharge as well as a wet cough and sneezing. A low-grade fever may also be present."

Heredity may play a part in allergies as well, Dr. Pongdee said. Knowing which family members suffer from allergies may give a clue to seasonal allergy symptoms in older children.

Parents should minimize early morning outdoor activity during the allergy season since pollen is usually emitted between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m., according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

The sneezing, coughing and congestion associated with colds are uncomfortable for any child, but should not necessarily be treated with over- the-counter products. Common cold medicines, though easily available, are not the best way to manage cold symptoms in young children.

"There is great overuse of these cold medicines for younger children," said Dr. Joel B. Steinberg, director of general pediatrics at Children's Medical Center Dallas and professor of pediatrics at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. "There is little evidence that shows cough and cold medications are effective in children under the age of five. Over-the-counter products, such as antihistamines and decongestants, can have side effects."

Pseudoephedrine, a common ingredient in decongestants, can cause irritability, loss of appetite, increased heart rate and poor sleep. Antihistamines have no effect on the cold itself, but make the patient sleepy and sometimes more irritable. A recent study on the popular over-the-counter cough suppressant dextromethorphan (DM) showed that the medicine was not superior to a placebo in providing night time relief for children with cough and sleep difficulties as a result of a cold.

What can parents do for that runny nose? Doctors recommend treating symptoms by using nasal saline drops and bulb syringe suctioning in those infants and toddlers who can not blow their nose. Humidifying the air in the child's bedroom may help to loosen mucus in the nose and chest. Parents can give over-the-counter pain relievers containing acetaminophen, such as children's Tylenol, but should seek a doctor's advice if the child's condition is not improving.

"The best thing for an adult cold is a Kleenex," said Steinberg, "and the best thing for a younger child's cold is a bulb syringe."

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