It’s that time of year when the nice, spring weather can lead to sneezing, watery eyes, runny nose, or congestion. The cause? Seasonal allergies could be at work. Seasonal allergies occur during certain times of the year, usually when outdoor molds release their spores; and trees, grasses and weeds release tiny pollen particles into the air.

Even children can have seasonal allergies. Kids who have never had seasonal allergies in years past can develop them. They can start at almost any time, though they usually develop by 10 years of age.

Allergy symptoms, which usually come on suddenly and last as long as a person is exposed to a particular allergen, can include:

• Sneezing

• Itchy nose, throat or eyes

• Nasal congestion

• Clear, runny nose

• Coughing

If a child has wheezing and shortness of breath in addition to these symptoms, the allergy may have progressed into asthma. These respiratory symptoms usually come in episodes set off by various environmental or situational "triggers." Triggers include – but aren't limited to – chemicals, pollution, pollen, animal dander, exercise, smoke and anxiety or other emotions.

Asthma is a manageable, chronic inflammatory condition and is one of the most common chronic disorders of childhood. Asthma is the leading cause of school absenteeism and pediatric hospital admission. Independence reports show approximately 14 percent of the students in Independence have been diagnosed with asthma, which is above the national average of 9 percent.

Although asthma is seldom fatal, it is quite serious. Asthma causes breathing problems called asthma “attacks” or “episodes” that range from mild to serious. Asthma medications include inhaled rescue medications (quick-relievers) to treat symptoms and long-term controller medicines (inhaled as well as oral) to control inflammation that commonly causes the asthma.

Following a diagnosis of asthma, work with your doctor to develop a treatment plan. Ask your doctor for the resulting written asthma action plan, which includes what you should do when you fall from the green zone of good control into the yellow or red zones.

Once asthma is controlled, exercise should become part of daily activities. People with asthma certainly can and do excel in athletics. Exercise is as important for people with asthma as it is for anyone else. With care or pretreatment, people with asthma can exercise normally and often vigorously. Slow warm-up and cool-down periods with exercise also helps to prevent exercise-induced attacks.

Wednesday, May 14, the Independence Health Department will host an Asthma Education and Fun Night for all children and families dealing with asthma. It will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Independence School District Central Office Cafeteria, 201 N. Forest Avenue, Independence, MO 64050 (Corner of Truman and Forest).

Information about asthma management will be shared by several groups including Dr. Charles Cockerell from Cockerell and McIntosh Pediatrics, Environmental Protection Agency, Children’s Mercy Asthma and Allergy Clinics, Asthma Ready, Independence School District Nurses, Independence Health Department Nurses, and Building a Healthier Independence. There will also be a celebration for Open Airways graduates as well as free food, games, and prizes. This event was funded in part by the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City.

A health promotion class about Asthma Basics will be from 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 20, at the Health Department. Come learn about warning signs, triggers, and the best ways to help manage asthma for children and adults. It is open to all community members and will also count as Clock Hour Trainings for childcare providers. To sign up contact Vicki Sears at or 816-325-7186.

The most important part of managing asthma is to be knowledgeable about how and when asthma causes problems, how some of the triggers can be avoided and how to use medications. Asthma and allergies are much more common in people with a family history of asthma or allergies. The factors which worsen asthma vary from individual to individual. Each person with asthma should seek to determine exactly which factors cause their asthma to worsen. The causes of asthma and best treatment may be quite different from child to child.

Please join the Health Department at one or both of the events coming up to learn more about asthma management.

Larry Jones, MPH, is the director of the Independence Health Department.