Spring is here, and warm weather is on the way. But for the six million children who suffer from seasonal allergies each year, spring also means the return of sneezing and congestion. If your child suffers from seasonal allergies, it can be difficult to keep the symptoms under control. While there’s no cure for allergies, there are steps you can take to make sure your child has a sunny, symptom-free spring!
What are Seasonal Allergies?
Seasonal allergies are an abnormal immune system reaction to common pollen or mold spore allergens that often show up in the spring, summer and fall. Allergies are triggered by harmless substances that the body mistakes as a possible threat. As it tries to fight the allergens, the body releases histamine and other substances which then lead to allergy symptoms.
Common spring allergens include:
- Trees pollens
- Grass pollens
- Mold spores
- Dust mites
During the spring, plants are pollinating and people begin mowing their lawns again, causing allergens like grass, tree pollen, and mold spores to swirl through the air. Dust is also often stirred up through spring cleaning, which can kick-start an allergic reaction, but dust mites can be found in homes year-round. However, the warmer weather and higher humidity promote the increase in dust mites.
Signs and Symptoms of Seasonal Allergies
Allergy symptoms are caused by the histamine and other substances released by from allergy cells when an allergen is ingested, inhaled, or comes into contact with eyes or skin. The immune system releases these chemicals to defend against the allergens and an allergic reaction.
Typical allergy symptoms include:
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes
- Itchy eyes
- Nasal congestion
Help Your Child Prepare for Allergy Season
1. Have an antihistamine or other allergy medications on hand to treat intermittent symptoms. However, many children need to take these allergy medications every day during their allergy season(s).
Antihistamines treat the common symptoms of allergies, such as runny nose, sneezing, and itching. This medication targets the histamine released by the immune system. Once antihistamines are in the blood, they can protect against the immune response that results from allergen exposure by blocking the effect of histamine released in the body. There are also medications that can help and prevent the release of histamines in the first place, or block the effect of many other substances released from allergy cells.
You can purchase antihistamines OTC in pill or liquid form, as well as eye drops. There are also antihistamine nasal sprays available by prescription. Pills target itching, sneezing and runny nose, while the nasal steroid sprays work best to relieve congestion and the inflammation that results from local allergic reactions in the nose. Examples of antihistamines include Allegra (fexofenadine), Benadryl (diphenhydramine), Zyrtec (cetirizine) and Claritin (loratadine). The generic forms of these medicines in parentheses are cheaper and will work just as well as the brand names. Most of these are fast acting and last up to 24 hours; however, some, like Benadryl, last anywhere from 4-6 hours and may need to be repeated throughout the day. In addition, Benadryl is rather sedating in most people.
2. Watch the Pollen Count
Pollen is a common cause of spring allergies. Trees and plants pollinate in the spring months, and the breeze will pick pollen up and blow it around. If your child is allergic to pollen, they don’t have to spend their spring indoors. Check for pollen counts in your area, and plan your outdoor activities when pollen counts are low. Be aware that plants release the most pollen in the mornings.
Plan to stay indoors on dry, windy days to reduce your child’s exposure to allergy triggers. Rain can clear the air of pollen, so the best time to go outside is after a good rainstorm.
3. Keep Allergens Out of Your Home
There are some easy steps you can take to make sure allergens aren’t getting into your home and causing trouble for your child.
- Vacuum once or twice a week. In the spring, your carpet can hold on to a lot of allergens, and just walking across the carpet re-releases dust and pollen into the air. Make sure your vacuum has a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to catch the smallest allergens. If you’re ready to take on a bigger home remodeling project, replace the carpet in your home with smaller, washable rugs or vinyl, tile or hardwood floors.
- Keep indoor air clean. Although it can be refreshing to open the windows after a long, cold winter, this is an easy way to let allergens in your home. Use an air conditioner with a high-efficiency filter and keep windows closed, especially when pollen counts are high.
- Dust the right way. Remember that spring cleaning can kick dust particles into the air, which can make allergy symptoms worse. The most effective way to dust is using a damp cloth to attract dust rather than move it around.
- Clean bathroom tiles to remove mold. There’s a lot of heat and moisture in bathrooms, which makes it a common place for mold to grow. Clean the tiles, shower curtain, and make sure the room is well ventilated. Also, consider removing the wallpaper from the bathroom. Your bathroom wallpaper is constantly in contact with moisture and heat, making it a prime location for mold to grow. Instead, paint the walls with mold-resistant enamel paint or install tile.
- Wash sheets in hot water. Sheets can trap potential allergens, especially dust mites. Wash your child’s sheets in hot water (at least 130 degrees) and dry them on high once a week. If your child likes to cuddle up with stuffed animals, toss them in the wash as well, but limit the amount of stuffed animals your child keeps on their bed.
- Keep entryways free of debris. Keep outdoor triggers outdoors, and frequently sweep or vacuum your outdoor and indoor entryways. This will make it less likely for someone to track dust or pollen into your home. Lay doormats inside and outside each entry as well. If you have pets that spend time outdoors, wipe their coats on a regular basis when they come indoors. In addition, never hang clothes or bed linens outside to dry.
4. Teach Your Child about Allergies
One of the best things you can do for your child is teaching them about their allergies and how to manage them. Make learning about their allergies fun with interactive puzzles and games! By teaching your child about managing their allergies, you can help reduce the number of missed school days.
Allergy Tests and Treatment
If you think your child is battling allergies, allergy tests can help determine what allergen is triggering your child’s allergic response. Allergy specialists also perform allergy tests, when necessary, to determine what your child is actually allergic to and to determine the most appropriate treatment for your child's allergies.
During skin tests, small amounts of allergens are placed on or below the skin to see if a reaction develops. If the skin develops a red, raised, itchy area, it usually means that the person is allergic to that allergen. Many suspected allergens are typically tested at the same time. Skin tests are fast, and reactions typically develop within 20 minutes.
Blood tests are often used for people who cannot have a skin test or if a skin test isn’t the best option. For babies and very young children, a single needle prick might be easier than several skin tests. Blood tests measure the level of a type of antibody that the body makes in response to certain allergens. People with allergies often have higher levels of this antibody. Blood samples are tested in a lab, so it can take several days to get the results.
Unfortunately, sometimes your child’s allergy symptoms will require more treatment than what you can do at home. If your child has mild to severe allergy symptoms, their doctor may recommend allergy tests followed by one of the following procedures to boost your child’s tolerance to an allergen and prevent symptoms.
Allergen immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots, can help prevent allergic reactions to common spring allergy triggers like pollen and dust. Shots of gradually increased doses of the allergen are given to help the immune system become less sensitive to the substance.
Sublingual Immunotherapy is a way to treat allergies without injections; however, these options are limited to grass and ragweed allergens at this time. There are no other FDA approved methods of treating allergies under the tongue. An allergist gives a patient a small dissolvable pill under the tongue. If the child tolerates this treatment well, subsequent doses can be given at home, usually starting about 12 weeks prior to the start of the allergy season.
Get Outdoors this Spring with the Help of UnityPoint Health
By following these tips, you can make allergy season a breeze for your little one. If your child suffers from severe allergy symptoms, find a UnityPoint Health pediatrician or an allergy specialist near you today.
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