Get Your Kids Moving to Protect Against Allergies

Healthnotes Newswire (December 28, 2006)—The incidence of hay fever is on the rise in children, and physical inactivity may be playing an important role, a new study has found.

Being outside in the spring or fall can be an uncomfortable experience for people with hay fever (also known as seasonal allergies). An allergic reaction to tree and grass pollens is responsible for the symptoms of hay fever, such as sneezing, runny or congested nose, and itching eyes, ears, nose, and throat.

Asthma is also an allergic condition that affects the respiratory system. It tends to be more chronic than hay fever, and can be caused by allergic reactions to dust, mold, smoke, and other airborne particles, as well as tree and grass pollens. Shortness of breath and a characteristic wheezing breath sound occur because of swelling and spasm in the airways that lead to the lungs. A severe asthma attack can be life-threatening.

Some people with asthma find that exercise triggers increased wheezing. Nevertheless, research has found that inactivity contributes to the risk of asthma. Although asthma and hay fever are similar conditions, and many people with asthma also have hay fever, a link between exercise and hay fever has not been explored before the current study.

The new study, published in Allergy, used questionnaires to gather data about hay fever and activity level in 2,470 children. Children who were inactive were more likely to have hay fever than children who were active. Many of the children were reached for follow-up 3 to 12 years after entering the study. Follow-up questionnaires from these children showed that, of those who had developed hay fever, more of them were inactive, and fewer were active.

As Western societies become more sedentary, the health consequences become increasingly evident. Lack of regular exercise is known to contribute to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, some cancers, and a number of other chronic conditions. The World Health Report 2002 estimated that physical inactivity causes 1.9 million deaths worldwide each year. Now it appears that the rise in inactivity has also contributed to the rise in the number of children with hay fever.

The researchers, however, warn against making too much of their findings. They point to the increasing rate of hay fever among all children over the course of the study—though it was highest among the inactive children, it was significant in all of the children. The causes of hay fever are many and still poorly understood. Air pollution, for example, is known to contribute to the incidence and severity of asthma and might also play a role in the development of hay fever.

“Of importance is the right dosage of physical activity,” the study authors say, “as strenuous sports, especially when exposed to cold air, also result in bronchial hyper-responsiveness, maybe to the same extent as physical inactivity, which additionally depends on how inactive time is spent.”

(Allergy 2006;61:1310–5)

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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