By Giana Lewis-Fairley, PA-C
The season for sniffles and achoos has arrived.
More than 40 percent of U.S. children suffer from allergies. The most common are reactions to seasonal indoor/outdoor allergens, including those caused by pollen from trees (spring), grasses (summer), weeds (fall), mold spores, and other sources.
Seasonal allergies in children can often start as early as three years old and peak in children at 10-12 years old, after which the body’s immune response is better equipped to fight off irritants. For some, problems extend into adolescence and adulthood and can be affected by other conditions such asthma.
Here are some recommendations I provide at MinuteClinic that will help you recognize allergy symptoms, limit your family members’ exposure, and determine the best medications and treatment to stay healthy.
Recognizing the Symptoms
Until you learn the tell-tale signs that your child is affected by allergies, parents typically associate the symptoms with a cold or sinus infection.
In many ways they are similar, but strong seasonal allergy indicators begin the same time every spring and summer. They are marked by a constant itchy and runny nose with clear discharge, eye redness and tearing, and excessive sneezing.
Other common clues are crustiness in the eyes and allergic shiners (dark areas) caused by constant nasal congestion and rubbing itchy eyes.
Medical professionals may also spot swelling and redness in the nasal cavity. Children treated for atopic dermatitis (itchy skin inflammation) are also likely to have seasonal allergy issues.
For youngsters experiencing allergy discomfort, the first course of treatment should be limiting their exposure to allergens.
This can be difficult because waiting for the bus, walking to school, and playing outside at recess and after school may be part of their routine. Avoiding prolonged exposure when pollen counts are highest is key.
Pollen.com is a great source for information. Hot dry days typically have the highest counts, and windy days are particularly bad because breezes stir ground and tree irritants. Early morning hours between 5 am and 10 am are when conditions are worst.
Keeping house and car windows closed and running air conditioning on high pollen days is a good practice.
Pick out a cool pair of sunglasses with your child to prevent particles from blowing in their eyes. Using nasal saline sprays and eye drops several times a day will help to flush out allergens.
Keeping Pollen Outside
There’s a lot you can do to keep pollen outdoors and in its place.
When it’s time to come inside, have your kids remove their shoes in the garage. If they’ve been playing in the yard, take off their clothes and place them in the washing machine.
Regular baths and showers may not be their favorite activity, but it’s an important step to stay allergen and pollen-free.
Focus your attention on their bedroom and living areas they use most. Frequent vacuuming is needed, and for the highly allergic, consider removing carpet in favor of hardwood floors or tiles. Wash bedding on a regular basis.
For the little ones, stuffed animals can be particle magnets. Keep them washed and stored away until bedtime or after allergy season.
Pets are also pollen collectors. Wash their paws when they come inside. Brush their coats and clean them regularly. Consider limiting their outdoor time as well on high pollen days.
Over-the-counter allergy medications are extremely effective in providing youngsters relief.
Beginning treatment 2-to-4 weeks in advance of when allergy symptoms typically first appear helps to reduce and block histamines that cause inflammation and allergy symptoms.
Start with one of the common antihistamines in the allergy aisle at your pharmacy. Liquid, chewable, and non-drowsy options for kids are available.
If after four weeks these are not effective, move to one of the nasal steroid sprays appropriate for children. Final options may be a stronger prescription medication or immunotherapy therapy (allergy shots) from an allergist.
Your pharmacist, pediatrician, or a retail clinic practitioner can help you choose the best course of treatment for your family and recommend important allergy avoidance measures.
Giana Lewis-Fairley is a physician assistant at the MinuteClinic inside the CVS Pharmacy store in Woonsocket on Cass Avenue. She resides in the area and is the mother of a three-year-old daughter who has allergies.