Your Health Tamar Raucher | one year ago

Sneeze, Sniff, Repeat: Safeguarding Your Kids from Seasonal Allergies

Springtime is upon us – and with it, a growing chorus of sniffles and sneezes. More than one in three kids suffer from seasonal allergies, making the warmer months a tough time for little eyes and noses.

What symptoms should you look for in your child, and what can you do to help? Ekta Shah, a pediatric allergist with Carolinas HealthCare System, gives us the scoop.

Seasonal Allergy Basics

Seasonal allergies normally flare up from spring to fall, when trees, grasses and weeds make pollen – the yellow dust you see floating through the air and coating everything outdoors. Typically, the pollen comes from trees in early spring, grasses in the summertime, and ragweed in late summer and early fall. Dr. Shah says the Carolinas sees this pattern – and then some. “Here in the Southeast, our pollen season starts earlier and lasts longer,” says Dr. Shah. “Tree pollen can actually appear as early as February, and ragweed pollen can extend all the way into November.”

What to Watch For

Regardless of the pollen source, the symptoms it triggers are largely the same:
  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose with thin, clear mucus
  • Nasal congestion
  • Itchy nose, ears, eyes and throat
  • Watery eyes
It’s just as important to know when it’s NOT allergies. If you’re not sure whether your child’s symptoms are from an allergy or a cold, take their temperature. “Colds can cause a fever, but seasonal allergies won’t,” says Dr. Shah. “And colds normally go away within a week or so, while allergy symptoms will linger.”

Fight the Pollen Power

When you know your enemy, it’s easier to fight it. With seasonal allergies, the enemy is pollen – and your smartest game plan is to have your child avoid it as much as they can. So as tempting as it is to prop open your windows and doors on those mild spring and summer days, it’s really best to keep them shut. Running the air conditioner can also help lower humidity and keep indoor pollen levels low. And while it’s great for your child’s health to get outside and play, it’s not so great for their seasonal allergies. You might want to keep their outdoor excursions to a minimum for a while. “Pollen counts peak in the early morning, so that’s the best time to minimize outdoor activity,” says Dr. Shah. If your little one does wander outside, have them wear a hat and sunglasses to keep pollen from getting in their hair and eyes. And when they come back indoors, be sure to have them take a shower or bath to rinse the pollen off. “The last thing you want is for your child to transfer the pollen inside to the couch or the bed.”

Pills, Sprays, Drops: What Works Best?

Even with the best strategies in place to keep pollen at bay, it’s impossible to avoid it completely. That’s when medications like antihistamines and nasal sprays can help. Dr. Shah says antihistamines tend to be more helpful for symptoms like sneezing and itchiness, nasal steroid sprays are more effective for congestion and nasal drip, and irritated eyes benefit most from dedicated drops. “It often takes a combination of medicines to get the effect you’re looking for,” says Dr. Shah. And it’s often best, she says, to start medication before the pollen seasons gets into full swing. “Start your child on medicine two weeks before the start of the pollen season,” she says. “If you wait until their symptoms appear, you’re left playing catch-up.” What about all the buzz around local honey as a remedy? Some say giving your child a dose of honey from local bees can lessen their allergic reaction to pollen. Dr. Shah says the benefits are a myth – and there’s a simple reason why. “The pollen that bees collect and use to make honey comes from flowers – not from grasses and trees,” she says. “So eating local honey doesn’t help us fight the pollen we’re actually allergic to.” And what if nothing seems to work? If you’re finding your child doesn’t respond to what you give them – or they need lots of allergy medications to keep their symptoms under control – allergy shots might be something to consider. “For some children, it’s a good solution,” she says. “Your child’s doctor can help determine if it’s right for them.”