By Anjali Mehta, MD
Division of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery & Allergy
Springtime is finally here, and along with the warmer weather comes seasonal allergies that affect many of us, including children. In addition to making your child feel miserable, allergy symptoms can prevent your child from concentrating on their studies in school and may also affect their ability to participate in extracurricular activities.
Use the information and tips below to learn more about seasonal allergies and how you can best help your child deal with them.
Is it Allergies or a Cold? It’s important to know the difference between seasonal allergies and cold symptoms so children can get the right treatment. Children often sound congested if they have a seasonal allergy, which can easily be mistaken for a cold. A usual tell-tale sign of allergies is if your child is constantly rubbing their eyes and nose. Sneezing and tingling and/or itchiness in the nose, mouth and throat, as well as red, itchy eyes are known signs of allergies (but not typically of a cold). Note that nasal drainage with allergies is clear and watery compared to a cold, which has thicker drainage that is yellow and green in color.
Age Matters: Children between three and five years-old are old enough to experience seasonal allergies. Children as young as one or two years of age are usually not affected by seasonal allergies, but can suffer from indoor allergies such as those caused by dust mites and pet dander.
Kids Inherit Allergy Sensitivity: When both parents have allergies, their children will often suffer from them too. However, just because a parent is allergic to cat dander, for example, doesn’t mean the child will be allergic to this specific allergen. Children inherit the ability to become allergic, not a sensitivity to a certain allergen.
Work to Avoid Allergy Triggers: There are ways to avoid and lessen the effect of outdoor allergies. Grass and weed pollen tend to peak in the morning, so schedule outdoor activities in the late afternoon or early evening, when possible. Having your child wear sunglasses when they are playing outside can help prevent itchy, irritated eyes. Keeping windows shut can prevent pollen from entering your home (and your car). Using a HEPA filter for your central air conditioner can also be helpful. Taking a shower (including washing hair) after being outside for an extended period can help reduce pollen exposure.
Allergies Can Cause Asthma Flare-ups. Children with seasonal allergies who also suffer from asthma can often have asthma flare-ups if their allergies aren’t well-controlled. Signs of asthma flare-ups include coughing, wheezing and breathing problems. When a child has asthma, it is particularly important to work with a pediatric caregiver to properly diagnose allergies and take proactive treatment.
Over-the-Counter Medications Can Manage Symptoms. Saline sprays, antihistamines and nasal steroid sprays are available in children’s formulations to help manage symptoms. However, it’s a good idea to talk to your child’s healthcare provider before using them. You will need to monitor these medications carefully because many can cause sleepiness. Medications that cause sleepiness are better given at nighttime. Always ask about proper dosing and potential side effects so the medication doesn’t affect your child’s alertness during school. Prescription-strength medications are available for children, but are only used for those suffering from severe allergies.
Throughout spring, summer, and fall, seasonal allergies are a fact of life for many families. Proper education and treatment can help families enjoy outdoor fun.
About Anjali Mehta, MD, Chief of Allergy & Otolaryngology
The daughter of an anesthesiologist, Dr. Anjali Mehta enjoys being able get to know her patients and help them over the long term. “One of the reasons I like being an otolaryngologist is that it gives you the opportunity to develop close relationships with your patients,” she explains. “Most importantly, you really feel like you’ve made a difference in a person’s life when you’re successful in treating them.”
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