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Spring is right around the corner, and we’re all eager to get outside and enjoy the longer, warmer days. But for many children, this time of year brings on seasonal allergies which can lead to cold-like symptoms that persist for several weeks.
If your child has itchy watery eyes or congestion this spring, here’s how you can help them manage unpleasant or challenging symptoms.
What are seasonal allergies?
Seasonal allergies are a very common, temporary condition that occurs when your body’s immune system overreacts to harmless substances in the environment around you. You may have heard it called hay fever, allergic conjunctivitis, or something else.
Anyone can develop seasonal allergies at any point in their life. Although, they don’t seem to typically affect children under the age of two. Even if you don’t have allergies as a child, it’s possible to develop them as an adult. In fact, we estimate that nearly 30 percent of people in the United States have seasonal allergies.
For many people, allergies seem to be most irritating in the spring when flowers begin blooming and pollen abounds from grasses, trees, and weeds. Because plants typically flower or pollinate for three to four weeks, it’s not uncommon for allergy symptoms to persist for a month or longer. However, it’s also possible to have allergies year-round, depending on where you live and your environment.
What are common allergy symptoms in kids?
Allergies can bring on different symptoms in everyone, but some of the classic signs of allergies in kids include:
- Clear, runny nose
- Post nasal drip
- Itchy or irritated eyes
- Puffy dark circles under eyes (caused by dilated under eye veins)
Kids who are really uncomfortable with symptoms may also experience fatigue or irritability from sleep interruptions or general discomfort.
How can I tell if it’s allergies or a virus?
Allergy symptoms can sometimes mimic those of a cold, but the primary difference is that allergies won’t cause a fever or associated symptoms, like body aches or chills. If your child has a temperature over 100.4, then it’s probably something else. Any temperature under that should be considered normal. Additionally, allergies usually do not bring on gastrointestinal issues. Therefore, belly pain, vomiting, or diarrhea may indicate other illnesses.
Seasonal allergies may also begin gradually and then linger for several weeks at the same time every year, whereas a cold or viral infection often appears suddenly and goes away after a few days.
How can I manage my child’s seasonal allergies?
Consider over-the-counter therapies.
The good news is that most children and adults respond well to over-the-counter therapies that can help control symptoms, in most situations. There are many safe medications available in your local pharmacy that are approved for children over the age of six months. If you’re unsure about dosing, check with your doctor.
We generally recommend oral antihistamines that may provide relief for up to 24 hours, such as Claritin, Zyrtec, or their generic counterparts. These tend to have milder side effects and should cause less drowsiness compared to other short-term options, like Benadryl.
Nasal sprays, such as Flonase, can also be highly effective at reducing inflammation in the nose and blocking allergens. They do take a few days to start working, so you may need to stick with it for up to a week before feeling relief.
Saline sinus rinses and humidifiers won’t eliminate allergy symptoms, but they may help to provide some relief, especially when it comes to sleeping more comfortably.
Minimize allergens in the home.
It can be helpful to take a few precautions to try to keep allergens from entering the home. We still want to encourage kids to get outside and reap the benefits of playing outdoors, but the following tips can help to minimize the amount of allergens that come inside when they’re done:
- Keep doors and windows closed during the worst time of the season
- Change your air filters
- Have children bathe or shower to rinse their skin or hair of any allergens they may have picked up, then change into fresh clothing
- Frequently wash sheets and pillowcases
- Vacuum and sweep often
- Bathe pets that go outdoors, and consider keeping them out of your child’s bed or room during allergy season
Talk to your child’s pediatrician about other options.
If your child continues having severe symptoms that aren't responding to treatment, talk to your child’s physician. We don’t want allergies to keep your child from reaping the benefits of being outside, and there are always things we can try to help manage symptoms so they can continue normal everyday activities without discomfort.
In some instances, your pediatrician may prescribe different medications for better symptom relief. Some other children may benefit from a referral to an allergist who can help determine what triggers your symptoms and formulate a solution for desensitizing your child to those allergens, when appropriate.
Watch our Facebook Live with Dr. God below to learn more about seasonal allergies:
Enjoy the great outdoors with fewer allergy symptoms.
We don’t want to keep kids indoors to avoid allergens altogether. Rather, the goal is to find a way to manage symptoms so kids can be kids and reap the benefits of the outdoors.
It’s often helpful to reach for long-acting daily antihistamines or nasal sprays, which can help control symptoms. But if you find that your child is still miserable, your child’s primary care provider is here to help keep your child active and healthy and can explore other solutions to reduce or manage disruptive allergy symptoms.