Ahhh…[CHOO]…Spring Time! For those of us in the South, it is those few short weeks where temperatures are generally less than 90 degrees, the humidity is less than 90%, and it is bearable to sit outside for longer than 30 minutes. But of course, with all of this spring weather greatness comes the flowering trees, blooming plants, and other mother nature awakenings that fill the air with pollens that end up coating our cars, outdoor furniture, swing sets, and, most unfortunately, our nasal passages and airways. And for millions of Americans, so begins the yearly struggle with seasonal allergies.
According to a report from CNN last year, the three worst cities for springtime allergies are 1) Louisville, Kentucky, 2) Memphis, Tennessee, and 3) Baton Rouge, Louisiana. There we are…sitting at number 3! Environmental allergies occur when typically harmless substances such as pollens from trees or grasses, molds, dust, or other breathable foreign contaminants, over stimulate the immune systems of certain folks who are sensitized to these particles. Symptoms of seasonal allergies in both children and adults can include sneezing, clear runny nose, itchy or watery eyes, sore throat (particularly first thing in the morning), a dry hacking cough, and even flare ups of eczema and other skin issues. And if you’re an adult who’s had issues with spring allergies in the past, there is a genetic component to those allergies, so your kiddos are more likely to have issues too. (Just FYI - Kiddos have about a 25% chance of having seasonal allergies if one parent suffers with them, but this risk more than doubles to 60-70% if both parents suffer from allergies.)
When it comes to diagnosing seasonal allergies in children, this can often be done by your pediatrician based on the child’s history of symptoms and a physical exam. In order to find out specifically what environmental substances may over stimulate their immune system, allergy testing can be done through blood work. However, allergy testing is generally not indicated for the majority of kids who have milder allergy symptoms that can be controlled with some of the more basic interventions. For those children who show signs of severe allergy symptoms that cause disruption of their daily activities or have serious reactions, blood testing, as well as consultation with a pediatric allergist, may be indicated.
So what is a parent to do? If you know what triggers your child’s allergies, then avoidance of that substance will likely keep your child from being the proverbial “nose faucet” during springtime. However, when it comes to environmental allergens, it can be quite difficult to know exactly what the culprit is given that there is often a mix of various pollens floating around at any given point during the spring months. I do not know many kiddos (or parents for that matter) who want to spend the entire spring and early summer indoors! Here are a few other ways, besides just straight avoidance, to help manage those pesky seasonal allergies in children:
- Keep Those Toys Clean! - Make sure and wipe down outside toys or playsets with a wet towel before your child plays on them. This will help to remove some of the pollen that has deposited on the toys since they were last used.
- Keep Outside Clothes from Going to Bed - When they come inside from playing, have your child change their clothes. This is especially important before going to bed. The last thing a child with seasonal allergies needs is all that pollen from their clothes getting into their bedding.
- Oral Medications - The most common type of oral medications used to treat seasonal allergies are the antihistamine class of medications. Many of these are sold over the counter and include medications such as Benadryl as well as newer antihistamines such as Zyrtec, Allegra, or Claritin which have the benefit of once daily dosing as well as less drowsy side effects.
- Nasal Sprays – For those children that suffer with mostly nasal symptoms such as runny nose and congestion, certain nasal sprays, specifically nasal steroid sprays, may be the key to keeping allergies at bay. Studies show that these nasal sprays are more beneficial than oral medications when it comes to treating the nasal symptoms of seasonal allergies. While most of these products are by prescription, there are actually a few nasal steroid sprays now sold over the counter, namely Flonase and Nasacort.
Now, before you go on a spending spree in the allergy medication aisle, make sure and discuss these medications with your child’s doctor. These medications are only appropriate for certain ages, and it is important to discuss the dosing of these medications as well.
So Happy Spring everyone! Get out there and enjoy this weather before the sweltering days of summer are here. And hopefully, with these tips, your child will be able to run outside sneeze and sniffle-free, play t-ball without having a tickle in their throat, or pick those incredible Louisiana Strawberries with the “nose faucet” off!