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The Informed Parent

All Persistent Runny Noses and Coughs Are Not Allergy

by John H. Samson, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Jul. 23, 2007

“Dr. Samson, my son is allergic to air conditioners, storms and perfumes. The usual anti-allergy medications are not working. He is miserable all the time. I don’t know what to do!” the frustrated mother pleaded.

First, you cannot be allergic to air conditioners, storms or perfumes. But these things can provoke a nasal or lung reaction that mimics allergic problems. Many times these non-allergic reactions are not helped by the usual medications used for allergic conditions.

It sounds like this child has vasomotor nasal and respiratory problems. This is referred to as Vasomotor Reactive Airway Disease--not allergy. Causes of this disease are changes in air temperature, changes in barometric pressure, changes in humidity, odors or fumes in the air such as cigarette smoke, stress or fatigue and infection.

This non-allergic group is harder to specifically diagnose because skin tests or blood tests are of no help. Furthermore, this group seems to respond less readily to oral medications.

However, some medications can control both allergic and non-allergic conditions. The common antihistamines alone frequently do not provide aid to the patient suffering from vasomotor respiratory tract problems. This child may continue to have episodes of symptoms into adult life.

Some examples of patients with Vasomotor Reactive Airway Disease are:

  • the patient who says he is allergic to air conditioners has been triggered by cold air
  • the patient who wheezes when the weather changes has been brought on by barometric changes. 
  • the patient who wheezes when around smoke has been reacting to an irritant which sets off the hyperactive airway.

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