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Surviving springtime allergies

April 25, 2012

Spring is here! Birds are chirping, flowers are blooming, and many of us are… sneezing.

Yep, along with the beautiful weather that spring brings here in Central Florida, it also brings an unwelcome guest: seasonal allergies.

Even though seasonal allergies (often referred to as hay fever) are very common, that doesn’t mean that they’re harmless. They can have a dramatic impact on a person’s life, affecting performance in work, school and social activities. Allergies can also play a role in other illnesses such as asthma, sinus infections, ear infections and sleep problems.

And, if you think this is just a grown-up problem, think again. Roughly 80% of patients with allergies will develop them before 20 years of age. It’s the most common ongoing illness in children, seen most often in school-age children.

What are seasonal allergies?

In general terms, an allergy is when the body develops a sensitivity to something that is normally harmless. This exposure could occur through food, contact with the skin or by breathing in substances in the air.

Allergies run in families, so a child with one or both parents who are allergy sufferers is more likely to suffer as well. Breastfeeding provides some protection against developing the disease, even in those who have a strong family history.

Seasonal allergies tend to occur in response to things in the air that fluctuate with the changes in season: tree, grass and weed pollen as well as mold spores.

How are they different than allergies that seem to occur year-round?

Seasonal and year-round allergies can produce the same symptoms, but often present in a different pattern. For people that experience the same symptoms regardless of the season, their allergy triggers may be of the indoor variety: dust mites, cockroaches or pet dander.

What signs should you look for in your child?

Allergy symptoms may vary greatly from person to person, and because they can closely resemble the common cold, they can easily be overlooked by parents.

Symptoms may include:

  •  Itchy, watery eyes
  • Stuffy nose
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing, especially when the cough worsens at night
  • Itchy or sore throat
  • Hoarseness
  • Frequent throat clearing
Some children who suffer from allergies may also suffer from asthma. An allergy can trigger an irritation, and in a person with asthma this causes the airways to get smaller, making it difficult for the person to breathe.

If your child experiences any of these symptoms, it may be a sign of asthma:

  • Wheezing (a high-pitched whistling sound most often heard when exhaling)
  • Chest tightness
  • Trouble breathing
  • Chronic cough

What should you do if you think your child has an allergy?

Be observant

Do symptoms get worse when your child goes outside? Do symptoms occur more often during daytime or night? If they have a runny nose, is the mucus clear and colorless or is it a yellowish-green color? What helps the symptoms get better?

These are all questions that your pediatrician will ask you. The more information you can give, the easier it will be for your child’s doctor to pinpoint the problem.

Talk with your pediatrician

Although there are over-the-counter medications available for managing allergy symptoms, take your concerns to your child’s doctor first. For adults, trying an over-the-counter remedy before going to the doctor may be a reasonable approach. However, for children it is important for your doctor to first identify the cause of the issue your child is experiencing. Your pediatrician can then work with you to find the safest and most effective treatment for your child.

Avoid allergy triggers

For children who are sensitive to outdoor allergens, consider these suggestions to limit their exposure:

  • Stay indoors when the pollen count is elevated
  • Remove clothing after playing outside
  • Have your child shower after coming in from the outside
  • Use the air conditioner in your home and car
  • Use high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters and maintain them appropriately
  • Vacuum indoors with a HEPA filter frequently
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all cure for allergies, but you can help manage your child’s symptoms. Addressing their allergy issues will help them become healthier and happier kids. And that’s good for all of us.