Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Don't ignore the itch

THE next time you dismiss your itchy eyes and congested nose as minor irritations, consider this: Experts say such common symptoms, caused by allergic rhinitis (AR), can affect work and school performance.

AR is caused by an allergic response to certain airborne substances such as house dust mites. Sufferers experience cold-like symptoms affecting the nose, throat and eyes. These range from a stuffy or runny nose to itchy, red and watery eyes, and can occur irregularly or all year round.

"AR is not a life-threatening condition, but many people underestimate its impact on daily activities," said Dr Samuel Yeak, president of the Society of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery Singapore, at a media conference last week.

According to Dr Yeak, about 730,000 people here suffer from this condition. And 44 per cent of them are children, who are less able to cope with the symptoms, added Dr Lee Bee Wah, an adjunct associate professor at the Department of Paediatrics at the National University of Singapore, and president of the College of Paediatrics and Child Health Singapore.

He said studies have found that adolescents with moderate to severe AR symptoms have a 50-per-cent increased risk of dropping an exam grade.

"Nasal congestion can affect quality of sleep. The symptoms of AR can also be very tiring and adversely affect performance in school or at work. Imagine how exhausting it would be if you kept sneezing or if your eyes were constantly itchy," explained Dr Lee.

However, only about half of AR patients seek medical help, and most of them ask only to be relieved of their nasal symptoms, said Dr Yeak.

"Often, patients are told by their GPs that it's just a runny nose. Many cases are undertreated, and people just live with their symptoms."

Presently, intranasal steroids (INS), a type of nasal spray, is the recommended treatment for relieving moderate to severe AR nasal and eye symptoms, even for children, said both doctors.

For mild cases, anti-histamines can help, said Dr Yeak.

"Many parents are worried that using nasal steroids may be harmful for kids, but the types of INS currently available are actually very safe and have no side effects on children," he added. Eveline Gan

From TODAY, Health – Tuesday, 22-Sep-2009