Seasonal allergies are common and can be disruptive to young developing minds. Around 10 to 30 percent of children have seasonal allergies, or allergic rhinitis. Symptoms commonly include runny nose, sneezing, cough, itchy eyes, irritability, and fatigue. Babies usually don’t have seasonal allergies, as they have to live through a season to become exposed and sensitized, though it is still possible. Children with frequent allergy symptoms have difficulty concentrating, focusing, and even socializing, so here are seven tips to follow to help your child cope with seasonal allergies.
Know the risk factors
You probably already know your allergy status, but you should ask around to other family members to see what allergies they have. There is good evidence that allergies are genetic, and chances are your child may share those genes. Other known or proposed risk factors include early, frequent use of antibiotics and exposure to smoking in the first year of life. Additionally, if you know what environmental allergies your child has, search online to find what pollens are in high count in your area (or when they expect to be high).
Your child could be allergic to many household particles, such as animal dander, dust mites, or even pollens. Invest in a good cleaning service at the beginning of allergy season. Rent a steam cleaner to thoroughly remove allergens from carpets and upholstery. Add a portable high-efficiency particulate arrestance (or HEPA) filtered air purifier to your child’s bedroom. Consider using mattress and pillow covers to block out feather proteins or dust. Have your home inspected for mold and, if renting, ask your landlord to have it removed. If you have an older home or live in an area where mice and cockroaches are prevalent, take measures to reduce their presence in your home. They too produce proteins that children (and adults) can be allergic to.
Keep them healthy
This goes without saying, but children with allergies may be more susceptible to viral infections like the common cold. Keep them healthy and help them fight back. Always make sure they are eating a balanced diet and exercising. Speak to their pediatrician before making any major dietary changes to be sure they are meeting their nutritional needs.
A short discussion on allergy medications with your child’s pediatrician or board-certified pediatric allergist can save you a lot of time. Some medications are taken daily as controllers and some taken only when symptoms develop. Mixing up the two can delay treatment, causing your child unnecessary discomfort. Make sure you child is taking the right medication, at the right time, at the right dose, and the right way.
Share the information
Discuss allergies with other caregivers (nannies, grandparents, summer camps, schools, etc.). Your child’s pediatrician or allergist office likely offers generic allergy information forms that list what allergies a child has, and what interventions to take should symptoms develop. If other care providers are not aware of what your child should be avoiding, they risk exposure and possible reactions.
Ask about emergency epinephrine
Most seasonal allergies do not result in anaphylaxis, but the risk is still there. Talk to your child’s doctor about his specific risks and whether or not he should have an emergency epinephrine handy. Also talk to your child’s school or daycare about whether or not they carry epinephrine for children, and if the staff are trained to used them.
Get them tested
Knowing is half the battle. Find your child a board-certified pediatric allergist who can perform and interpret allergy testing. If you don’t know what your child is allergic to, you can’t help him avoid it. If your child is already taking allergy medications, call the allergist’s office to see which ones need to be stopped before testing. Some allergy medications, like anti-histamines, can give you a false negative result on allergy testing, so it will need to be cleared out of your child’s system first.
For additional resources, check out the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology website at www.aaaai.org.
Joe Ciavarro is a physician assistant at Cornell Pediatrics.