Helping your child cope with seasonal allergies

Sniffles and sneezes are an inevitable part of growing up. But if your child has a lingering runny nose and cough – or both appear around the same time each year – it could be seasonal allergies. 

“Symptoms of seasonal allergies typically start to show up in children after the age of 3 and most prominently around 5 to 6 years,” explains John James, M.D., medical specialist and spokesperson for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. If your child has been diagnosed with eczema or asthma, they’re also more likely to develop allergies. And allergies are slightly more common in boys than girls.1

If you suspect that your child might be among the roughly 20% of children who experience seasonal allergies each year, know that relief is possible.1 There are many steps you can take to make seasonal allergies easier on your little one.

What are common signs of allergies in kids?  

Seasonal allergies, also known as seasonal allergic rhinitis, have the same signs in kids that they do in adults. Common symptoms of seasonal allergies in children include: 2, 3

  • Itchy, stuffy or runny nose 
  • Red, itchy or watery eyes 
  • Itchy mouth or skin  
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Increased fatigue

Sometimes it can be tough for kids to communicate how they are feeling, so parents can also watch out for behaviors such as breathing through their mouth while sleeping.2

Why do we have allergic reactions? 

You can think of allergic reactions as your body overreacting to something it has been exposed to. And different people may have different allergy triggers. People with seasonal allergies react to pollen or mold in the air – and their bodies produce antibodies in response. “The body thinks it is something foreign and that it needs to ‘fight,’” explains Mehul Patel, M.D., a pediatrician with Children’s Memorial Hermann Pediatrics.

As a result, you get congestion and inflammatory symptoms, he adds. These inflammatory symptoms are caused by the body’s release of different chemicals such as histamines. Histamines cause itching, redness, swelling and secretions in the nose, eyes, skin, throat and ears.3

What are common seasonal allergy triggers?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 1 in 5 children report having a seasonal allergy.4 “While similar allergy symptoms can be observed in both children and adults, neither group really suffers any worse than the other,” Mehul Patel, M.D explains.

There is a chance your little one could grow out of their allergies. 5 “Outgrowing these allergies may occur over time. The body develops a tolerance to the specific allergen after long periods of natural exposure,” says Dr. James. He explains that if your child has severe allergies, the chances of outgrowing them drops.

“Seasonal allergies typically happen in the spring, summer and early fall,” says Dr. James. The timing of allergies depends on where you live and which plants and pollens are your personal triggers. Some general guidelines:6

  • Allergies from trees typically occur in springtime. 
  • Allergies from grasses occur in late spring and early summer. 
  • Allergies from weeds –including the common allergy trigger, ragweed, occur in late summer through early fall.

Weather can also affect your child’s allergies. For example, pollen counts can increase after rainfall and when the wind picks up. Counts also tend to be higher in the morning and during periods of cool nights and warmer days.4  

What’s the best way to treat allergies in kids? 

Preventing exposure

When it comes to seasonal allergies, one of the best treatments is prevention. That means minimizing your child’s exposure to known allergens. Some ways to help your child avoid seasonal allergy triggers include:

  • Stay indoors with the windows closed (no window fans) when pollen counts are high6
  • Shower, change clothes and wash your child’s hair after being outside6
  • Dry clothes inside the house (rather than outside on a line) to avoid pollen contact6
  • Wear a NIOSH-rated 95 face mask if pollen counts are especially high6
  • Use a portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter in the bedroom7
  • Clean with a vacuum that’s certified “asthma & allergy friendly”8

Dr. Patel says that while it’s important to be mindful of triggers, kids will be kids: “Don’t feel like you need to lock your kid indoors for a whole season when they should be out playing.”

Allergy testing 

Allergy testing can also help to identify specific triggers so you can be more targeted in your approach. “If your child is allergy-tested and you have the specific tree or plant in your backyard, it may help to remove it,” says Dr. Patel.

To get tested, make an appointment with an allergist who will typically perform an exam, asking about symptoms as well as any history of seasonal allergies in the family. Clinical allergy testing can be performed using skin scratch tests, blood tests or elimination tests.9

What medications can kids take?

There are several kid-safe over-the-counter allergy medications on the market. They are typically the same treatments that are used for adults, although it’s important to read the instructions. “Doses may differ based on age,” says Dr. Patel. Talk to your doctor to find the best medication for your child.

Seasonal over-the-counter allergy medicines for children include:10

  • Topical nasal corticosteroid sprays
  • Antihistamines, like cetirizine (Zyrtec) or loratadine (Claritin)
  • Decongestants. These are typically only approved for short-term use11
  • Sterile saline nasal sprays and rinses. While these are not medications, they may help relieve symptoms.

Allergy shot

For a longer-term solution, allergy shots may be the right choice depending on the allergy concerns.10 They are a form of immunotherapy. That’s the process of administering low doses of an allergen to build up immunity, per Dr. James. He says that it may be recommended for “children who don’t respond well to other treatment options, who have side effects from allergy medications, or who desire a more permanent solution to their allergies.”

The treatment often takes several years and many trips to the doctor’s office to receive allergy shots — but, he adds, the payoff may be a lifetime free of allergies. To find the best treatment for your child, talk to your doctor.

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