For many children, the warmer temperatures that signal winter’s end also mark the return of itchy, watery eyes and stuffy noses. Get ahead of spring allergies before symptoms begin.
“One of the best ways to manage spring allergies is to be proactive instead of reactive,” says Christopher Pingel, MD, a community pediatrician with Children’s Clinic. “If children have been suffering from allergies for a while before we begin treatment, it can be more difficult to get allergies under control. Having an early diagnosis and management plan in place is helpful.”
Learn the Signs
Allergy symptoms in children can include itchy, watery eyes, runny nose, sore throat, sneezing, coughing and nasal congestion. In babies who are unable to express how they are feeling, a chronic runny nose and difficulty sleeping or feeding can also indicate spring allergies.
Because these symptoms often mirror those of other conditions, such as the common cold, it can be difficult for parents to determine if allergies are at play. However, if a child’s symptoms recur year after year, there is a family history of allergies or allergy medications offer relief, then spring allergies are a likely culprit.
Reducing Allergen Exposure
For those with mild symptoms, first-line allergy management involves limiting allergens:
- Stay indoors during early morning hours, when pollen is at its peak.
- Have your child bathe and wash her hair nightly to prevent pollen spores from getting on bedding.
- Use the air conditioning instead of opening windows.
Accessing pollen counts online or watching the local weather report can also offer a glimpse at how much pollen is circulating through the air and can help you decide if your little one should be outdoors.
When to Consider Medication
In St. Louis, which ranks 29th on the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America’s list of the most challenging cities for allergy sufferers to live in, preventing allergen exposure can be a problem.
“The remarkable tree pollen season in St. Louis makes avoidance difficult,” says Leonard Bacharier, MD, a Washington University pediatric allergist and clinical director of the division of allergy, immunology and pulmonary medicine at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “While limiting outdoor exposure during peak times can be helpful, it is unreasonable for children to spend all of their time indoors, so we also use medications that prevent or control symptoms.”
Oral antihistamines, steroid nasal sprays and eye drops are among the most common treatments. According to Dr. Pingel, antihistamines, such as Benadryl®, can be used in children as young as 6 months, and children age 2 and older can use nasal steroids. Before giving your infant any type of allergy medication, speak with your child’s pediatrician. To help prevent symptom development, Dr. Bacharier recommends allergy treatment begin around Valentine’s Day.
Is It Time for Allergy Testing?
If your child is struggling yearly or if symptoms are severe, it may be time to consider allergy testing. Not only will this give you a better idea of what allergens to avoid, but children age 5 and older may also be candidates for allergy shots, which are designed to reduce symptom severity by helping your child build immunity.