Warmer weather is upon us — flowers are blooming, leaves are sprouting, and grass is growing. But for many, this also means that little noses are sneezing and eyes are tearing! Seasonal allergic rhinitis or hay fever both describe a condition that develops in children after 4-5 years of age, who have been sensitized to wind-borne pollens from trees, grasses and weeds.
Symptoms may include sneezing, runny nose with watery discharge, itching of the nose and throat, and teary eyes, all of which can cause anywhere from mild to severe discomfort. A child suffering from such allergies may have mannerisms caused by itching of the nose such as wrinkling of the nose, (“rabbit nose”) or rubbing it frequently (“allergic salute”). Dark circles may appear under the eyes resulting from slow blood flow caused by swollen nasal mucous membranes. All of these symptoms combined add up to one uncomfortable child.
Your pediatrician can prescribe medications to control allergies, but the key to alleviating symptoms is avoidance of exposure to allergens and irritants that trigger symptoms as much as you can. The two top seasonal allergy culprits are pollen and outdoor molds. Tree pollen usually is the main trigger during spring, grasses are a summer irritant and ragweed will cause symptoms in the fall. Parents, this means year-round battle with weeds, molds, plants, and more.
What measures can you take to shield your child of allergens while still enjoying the outdoors? Here’s your checklist:
- Keep car and house windows closed and if possible, turn on the air-conditioning, making sure it has efficient filters.
- Control the timing/impact of outdoor exposure by planning trips when it’s cooler and less windy. NOTE: Hot, dry, windy days seem to be peak allergy days! Also, pollen counts normally peak in the morning, so schedule activities for later in the day to keep sneezing at bay. Playing is often more fun after kids wake up from their naps.
- Restrict outdoor activities like camping and hiking.
- Keep children indoors when mowing the lawn.
- After coming in from outdoor activities, toss dirty clothes in the washer and take a quick shower, especially after gardening or raking leaves.
- Request that family members and visitors remove shoes before entering the house or at least wipe them well on a mat.
Unfortunately, staying indoors won’t stop the allergen avalanche because, like the mud that travels inside on kids’ play shoes, pollen is easily tracked inside our homes. Practical ways to reduce indoor pollen include frequent vacuuming, using a double bag and HEPA filter. Remember to keep your child in another room when vacuuming or have them wear a mask. TIP: If a surgical mask seems scary to a tot, have them wear a Halloween or a favorite superhero mask.
For more extreme prevention from severe allergic reactions, choose hardwood floors and tile instead of carpets that trap pollen, dust and molds, replace draperies with shutters or blinds, and install portable HEPA filters in your home (preferably those that have high efficiency particulate air filters).
Appropriate drugs can normally relieve symptoms of allergies in children. Antihistamines are the mainstay of therapy but unfortunately, many of them can cause drowsiness that lessens with continued use. If nasal stuffiness is severe, your pediatrician can prescribe a nasal decongestant for a few days. Be sure to ask your doctor before using over the counter decongestants or nasal sprays, since many of them can produce rebound vasodilatation (dilation or widening of blood vessels) after prolonged use, making symptoms much worse.
Use of nasal saline solution is far safer, either administered by a squeeze bottle or a neti-pot, a device that looks like a small teapot to irrigate the nose. By far, the most effective treatment of allergic rhinitis is topical steroids reserved for children who do not improve after taking antihistamines and decongestants. These topical nasal steroids are safe and are not absorbed into the body.
It may be difficult and frustrating at times to avoid allergens completely. Many kids are in the same boat as yours, but by following simple, practical steps, you and your child can still explore the great outdoors or enjoy your own backyard with little discomfort.
PS: These Pearls of Wisdom about seasonal allergies also hold true for you!
All information contained in this blog and on our web site(s) should be independently verified by you by a medical professional of your own choosing and you should always conduct your own research and due diligence before making any decision related to the subject matter of this blog or our web site.
Dr. Pearl Cenon
A pediatrician in private practice in New Jersey for over 15 years, Dr. Cenon (we like to call her Dr. Pearl) also has two children of her own. Dr. Pearl’s husband, Kevin McDonough is also a pediatrician and they work together. She writes basic posts about topics that interest many parents, from skin care and nutrition to seasonal issues, such as allergies and colds. Her kind, approachable tone in each blog post will have you looking forward to the next one.