Managing Seasonal Allergies in Kids
As spring finally arrives, your child may be wanting to spend more time outside. But, with the arrival of spring comes budding leaves, blooming flowers, and the dreaded pollen. If your child has itchy, watery eyes and a runny nose after playing outside, seasonal allergies are likely to blame.
According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), over 14 million children have seasonal allergies, also called hay fever. If you, as a parent, have seasonal allergies, your child is more likely to develop them. And the risk is even higher if both parents are allergic.
With allergy season quickly approaching, take the time today to learn more about seasonal allergies, and how to protect your child if they fall victim to North Carolina’s inevitable sneezy season.
What are seasonal allergies?
“Seasonal allergies are due to the body’s immune system having an exaggerated or inappropriate reaction to environmental substances such as pollen and mold. These substances, by themselves, are not inherently dangerous to the body, but in some individuals, the immune system becomes overly sensitized to these substances, known as allergens, and triggers a response to attempt to neutralize them, much like it would for a virus or bacteria,” said Anthony Elkins, a physician at Iredell Primary Care.
The most common springtime allergen is tree pollen. If you are a resident of North Carolina, you are likely familiar with cast of yellow dust that seems to cover every surface in the spring. The culprit of your yellowing car and patio furniture is tree pollen, particularly pine tree pollen. Other types of trees produce pollen that is very small and can’t be seen, but your child’s immune system will surely notice them.
Even if your child did not have seasonal allergies in years past, you’re not out of the – yellow-coated – woods yet. Seasonal allergies can start at almost any age, but typically do not develop before the age of 2 or after the age of 20.
What are the symptoms of seasonal allergies?
If your child develops “cold” symptoms at certain times every year, the culprit may be allergies. Many allergy and cold symptoms overlap. According to Elkins, common symptoms of seasonal allergies include:
- Itchy, watery eyes
- Swollen eyelids
- Nasal congestion
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
Other less common symptoms include rashes or hives. Seasonal allergies can also cause asthma flare-ups, coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.
Unlike allergies, cold symptoms generally include fever, chills, body aches, and nausea.
How are seasonal allergies treated?
There are several ways to treat your child’s seasonal allergies, depending on how bothersome their symptoms are.
Histamine, a chemical in your body, causes many of the symptoms of allergies.
“This chemical is released from the immune system cells in your eyes, nose, throat, lungs, and skin in response to contact with the allergen. Thus, treating allergies with an anti-histamine is often effective,” said Elkins.
Benadryl (diphenhydramine) is an over-the-counter antihistamine that lasts 4-6 hours and often causes sleepiness. Non-sedating antihistamines include Claritin (loratadine), Allegra (fexofenadine) and Zyrtec (cetirizine) and come in children’s formulations.
“Because there are many other immune system reactions that cause allergic reactions besides histamine, other treatments ‘turn down’ the immune system in general. These are referred to as corticosteroids or simply ‘steroids.’ Some examples of inhaled steroids include Flonase (fluticasone) and Nasonex (mometasone). These are very effective in treating nose and eye symptoms,” said Elkins.
According to Elkins, some non-medication treatments for allergies include saline eye drops and saline nose spray. These work by loosening and washing the pollens away from the area.
What else can I do to help my child?
Your child can get some relief by reducing or eliminating exposure to the allergen that bothers them.
Check the pollen count.
Letting your child play indoors rather than outdoors during days with high pollen counts can help limit their exposure. Pollen counts are available in most weather apps or at pollen.com. Pollen counts are typically higher on dry, windy days.
Keep pollen out of your home.
“Because pollens are sticky and adhere to surfaces easily, changing pillowcases and bed linens more frequently can help,” said Elkins.
Make sure to have your child change out of their clothes after coming indoors and wash the clothes as soon as possible. After spending time outdoors, have your child shower or bathe to wash pollen out of their hair and skin.
Consider air filters.
You can install allergy-rated air filters into your HVAC system to help reduce circulating pollens in your home. Elkins recommends filters that are rated MERV 11 or higher.
If over-the-counter medications and home allergy controls are not working, make sure to contact your child’s healthcare provider.
“Your child’s doctor can evaluate the symptoms to determine if allergies are in fact the cause. Prescription medications may be more effective than over-the-counter agents. Children with severe symptoms, especially trouble breathing or wheezing, should be seen promptly, as these could be life-threatening. Children with severe allergies or asthma might be referred to an allergy specialist,” said Elkins.
Elkins is a physician practicing at Iredell Primary Care, located at 114 Gateway Boulevard, Suite B, in Mooresville. He is accepting new patients of all ages. If you would like to schedule an appointment with Dr. Elkins for you or your child, please call 980-435-0406.