Springtime and early summer. It’s a glorious season, filled with giggling children racing through the grass, picking wildflowers and climbing trees.
That is, at least, unless your child has seasonal allergies.
Raising a child with seasonal allergies can be more complicated than it would seem. After all, while adults with allergies can stay inside much of the day during allergy season, it seems cruel to keep a young child inside when all of her friends are outside playing.
Luckily, there are ways to identify seasonal allergies in young children and treat them as effectively as possible, so that they don’t have to be under house arrest all spring…or summer…or fall. Here’s how.
Does Your Child Have Seasonal Allergies?
Seasonal allergies usually mimic cold symptoms: sneezing, congestion, sore throat, and sometimes a cough as well. So how can you tell whether your child has a cold or seasonal allergies? The main way to distinguish between the two is by noting how long the symptoms last. A cold generally lasts a maximum of two weeks, and may resolve in just a few days. Allergy symptoms, on the other hand, generally last for weeks at a time, although some days may be worse than others. Also watch to see whether your child is bothered by itchy eyes, which are much more common with seasonal allergies than with a cold. Despite the term “hayfever,” commonly used to describe allergies, fever is a common symptom of an infection – not of seasonal allergies.
So you think your child may have seasonal allergies. How can you identify which allergen is triggering the symptoms? There are four main triggers of seasonal allergies: grass pollen, tree pollen, weed pollen, and mold. Your child may be allergic to one or more of these allergens, and the only way to know for sure is by doing allergy testing. According to Dr. Alvin Sanico, Diplomate of the American Board of Allergy and Immunology and Fellow of the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, it is especially important to test for seasonal allergies if your child has any of the following:
• Recurrent ear or sinus infections
• Persistent allergy symptoms that affect your child’s quality of life or school performance
“It takes several years of exposure to seasonal allergens for sensitivity to develop in a genetically predisposed child,” says Sanico, who practices at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. “For this reason, we typically wait until the child is at least age three years before testing is done in this regard.”
Luckily, technology has advanced enough that you can opt for needle-free allergy testing for your child and receive the results just twenty minutes later.
Fighting Seasonal Allergies
So you’ve been to the allergist, and your child does have seasonal allergies. What can you do to make him more comfortable during allergy season? Sanico gives three options. (Make sure to discuss the pros and cons of each with your child’s allergist before deciding which mix of strategies is ideal for your child!)
1. Avoid allergens. Baltimore has great resources that allow you to check local pollen levels daily, including the Allergy Asthma Baltimore website of Drs. Golden and Matz. Also note that pollen counts often peak during dry, windy weather and drop after a rain. When the pollen count is high, keep windows in your home and car closed as much as possible, only opening them to air out the house for a few minutes after it rains. To wash away the pollen from your child’s hair, you may also want to give him a quick shower as soon as he comes inside.
2. Medicate to prevent or relieve allergy symptoms. Intranasal steroid sprays can go a long way towards preventing allergy symptoms. These sprays can take several days to reach maximal effectiveness, however, so make sure to keep your child on them daily from the start of allergy season. Your child’s allergist may also prescribe antihistamines, decongestants, or eye drops to relieve breakthrough symptoms.
3. Consider allergen immunotherapy. Although the phrase “allergy shots” may terrify most kids (and their parents!), listen up. Immunotherapy is the only proven treatment that has long-term benefits for allergy sufferers, and studies suggest that it can also reduce your child’s future risk of developing asthma. Traditionally, immunotherapy meant getting allergy shots at least once a week at the beginning, and then tapering off to once a month, in an attempt to decrease your child’s sensitivity to the allergens. A new treatment, however, called sublingual immunotherapy, has the child actually putting small doses of the allergen under her tongue instead. The bad news? The FDA has only approved this treatment for specific allergens and age ranges – Timothy grass pollen for ages 5 and up, and mixed grass pollen for ages 10 and up.
Talk to your child’s doctor about different options for treating seasonal allergies, and make the best choice for your child’s specific situation. After all, there are fields to run through and ball games to play!
And with the right allergy-fighting strategies, your child will be right there in the thick of it all.