Children who eat certain types of fish may be less likely to develop nasal allergies, according to a study from Sweden. 

Researchers studied what children ate at age eight and then monitored whether they developed nasal inflammation due to allergies or colds by age 16. Regular consumption of oily fish like salmon was linked a reduced risk of allergic rhinitis, or inflammation of the mucus membrane inside nasal passages.

While it’s possible that fish consumption may help prevent the development of rhinitis, a healthy diet complete with a variety of items from all food groups may have a similar effect in promoting general wellbeing, said Diana Di Fabio, a pediatric dietician at Cleveland Clinic Children’s in Ohio.

“Fish consumption at eight years old may simply serve as an indicator of high dietary quality,” Di Fabio, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.

“Children who are picky eaters may avoid foods high in omega-3 polyunsaturated fats including fish and seafood, walnuts, spinach and soybeans,” she added. “Similarly, children who are more likely to consume those foods may also have a more adventurous palate and be more likely to consume a balanced diet.”

Rhinitis is one of the most common chronic diseases in childhood, note lead study author Jessica Magnusson, a nutritionist at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, and colleagues in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

At the start of the study, parents and kids completed questionnaires detailing how often the children consumed 98 foods and beverages common in Sweden. For fish, they were asked specifically about oily varieties such as herring, mackerel and salmon, as well as less oily alternatives like codfish, Pollock, pike, tuna and fish fingers.

They also asked parents if kids had symptoms of rhinitis, such as sneezing or runny nose or eye symptoms in contact with furry pets or pollens after age four, and 19 percent of the children did.

Among the 1,590 children who didn’t have rhinitis symptoms at age eight, 21 percent of them developed allergic rhinitis and 15 percent developed non-allergic rhinitis by age 16.

Total fish consumption didn’t appear related to the development of rhinitis between the ages of 8 and 16. Nor did fish fingers, or the less-oily options like tuna and cod.

But eating oily fish was linked to a drop in risk of allergic rhinitis by roughly half. It was also tied to lowered risk of non-allergic rhinitis but not enough to rule out the possibility that the reduction was due to chance.

It’s possible that fish consumption during infancy, or how much fish mothers ate during pregnancy might have influenced the odds that children developed rhinitis later in life, the researchers acknowledge, and they didn’t measure these things in their study.

“Since we don’t eat single nutrients, the take-home message is one that people hear all the time: eat more plants, less animals,” Samantha Heller, a nutritionist at New York University's Center for Musculoskeletal Care and Sports Performance who wasn't involved in the study, said by email.