U.S. News: Teens suffer from allergies in unique ways

And it could impact school performance.

By Michael Blaiss, M.D., Contributor Aug. 30, 2018, at 6:00 a.m. 

In one study, adolescents were more bothered by sneezing and runny nose than children were.

IT'S ESTIMATED THAT close to 25 percent of adolescents ages 12 to 15 have allergic rhinitis, commonly known as hay fever. And experts say the number is growing. Do adolescents suffer differently than adults with hay fever with or without eye allergies? As it turns out, teens do suffer in unique ways, according to research colleagues and I recently published in Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.

You may be wondering why that's important. Aren't allergy problems a burden for all who have hay fever? Why single out adolescents? As we discussed in our research, there are many reasons why it's important to understand how allergies uniquely impact teens.

[See: 8 Surprising Facts About Asthma and Seasonal Allergies.]

First, it's important to know they're not "big children" or "small adults." Adolescents are transitioning from puberty to adulthood. During this time, they undergo changes in physical, social, emotional, psychological and intellectual development. Because of these changes, chronic medical conditions, like hay fever, may have a different and more profound effect on them and can impact them the rest of their lives. Let's look at how hay fever influences adolescents in ways that are different from children and adults. 

Symptoms associated with nasal and eye allergies may differ in adolescents. A French study showed that eye symptoms were worse in teenagers compared to children and adults. This could impair driving and reading ability. They also found that adolescents were more bothered by sneezing and runny nose than children were, although the adolescent group had fewer problems with nasal itching than adults. This suggests that treatment for adolescents may need to be different than for adults and children.

Another feature of hay fever we wanted to examine is its effect on teens' quality of life. The study shows teens with hay fever have a noticeable amount of emotional distress, and they have a higher rate of anxiety and depression than children and adults. Parents of adolescents with hay fever report that nasal and eye allergies made their teenagers more upset, unhappy, angry and embarrassed. These are not the typical responses seen in most children and adults with nasal and eye allergies.

[See: Is it Healthy to Sleep With Your Pets?]

Sleep is important for all of us, but it's very important for adolescents so they can function well in school and sports. The study showed that adolescents with hay fever have more difficulty falling asleep and suffer more from night waking and generally poor sleep than teens without hay fever. And adolescents with nasal allergies are more likely to be habitual snorers than adolescents without hay fever. 

Do these sleep impairments and other burdens impact school performance? The answer is yes. 

A large study conducted in the United Kingdom reported that adolescents ages 15 to 17 whose grades dropped between winter mock exams and summer exams were significantly more likely to have hay fever than students whose grades did not drop. The students whose grades dropped were also more likely to be using hay fever medications, have a diagnosis of asthma and have more hay fever symptoms than those whose grades did not drop. Anything that dramatically impacts grades could prevent an adolescent from being admitted to a particular college or field of study and could limit careers and future incomes. 

[Read: How Do I Find the Best Allergist?]

Anyone with nasal and eye allergies should receive proper care for their illness, but there are unique reasons why adolescents should receive prompt and appropriate care. This is not a trivial condition. A board-certified allergist can set your child on the right track, for the long term, to handle their allergies or asthma. The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology has information that will help guide you in getting your adolescent to an allergist in your area for treatment. Your teen has the rest of their life in front of him or her. Help them get their allergies under control now.

Michael Blaiss, M.D. , Contributor