The spring season for sniffles and sneezes has arrived.
More than 40 percent of U.S. children suffer from allergies. Most common are reactions to seasonal indoor/outdoor allergens, including those caused by pollen from trees (spring), grasses (summer), weeds (fall) and mold spores.
Seasonal allergies can start as early as age 1 and peak at ages 10-12, after which the body’s immune response is better equipped to fight off irritants. For some, problems extend into adolescence and adulthood and are complicated by other conditions such asthma.
Here are some recommendations I provide at MinuteClinic that will help you recognize allergy symptoms, limit family members’ exposure and determine the best medications and treatment.
Recognizing the Symptoms
Until they learn the telltale signs that a child is affected by allergies, parents typically associate symptoms with a cold or sinus infection.
In many ways they are similar, but strong seasonal allergy indicators begin at the same time every spring. They include a constant itchy and runny nose with clear discharge, eye redness, tearing and excessive sneezing.
Other common clues are eye crustiness and allergic shiners (dark areas) caused by constant nasal congestion and rubbing of itchy eyes.
In addition, medical professionals may spot nasal cavity swelling and paleness. Children treated for atopic dermatitis (itchy skin inflammation) are also likely to have seasonal allergies.
The single most important indicator in determining a cold versus allergies, however, is time. If symptoms persist longer than one to three months, then allergy intervention may be necessary.
For children 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 may be part of their routine. Avoid prolonged exposure when pollen counts are highest.
Pollen.com is a great source for information. Hot, dry days have the highest counts, and windy days – especially when we experience Santa Ana winds – are bad because breezes stir ground and tree irritants. Early morning between 5 and 10 a.m. is 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 frequently will help to flush out allergens.
Keeping Pollen Outside
There’s a lot you can do to keep pollen in its place.
When it’s time to come inside, have your kids remove their shoes. If they’ve been playing in the yard, place their clothes in the wash. Regular baths and showers, particularly at night, are an important step to stay allergen free.
Focus attention on bedroomd and living areas your children use most. Frequent vacuuming is needed. For the highly allergic, consider removing carpet in favor of flooring. Wash bedding regularly.
Stuffed animals can be particle magnets. Keep them washed and stored 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 on high-pollen days.
If a child is happy, eating and there is no change in bowel habits, then medical treatment for seasonal allergies isn’t necessary.
To provide some simple relief, you can start with nasal saline spray – available in squirt bottle or mist – that can be used for infants and young children. Simply squirt into your child’s nose several times a day to flush out the allergens. Encourage older children to blow their nose periodically.
If something more is required, over-the-counter allergy medications are extremely effective in providing relief.
Beginning treatment two to four weeks before allergy symptoms first appear helps to reduce and block histamines that cause inflammation. Start with one of the common decongestants and/or antihistamines in the allergy aisle at your pharmacy.
Antihistamines are available in liquid, chewable and pill form and are safe for children 6 months and older.
Decongestants do nothing to fight the histamine effects of allergies, but they can improve the nasal congestion that may be linked with the allergens. Non-drowsy options can be given to children ages 4 and up.
If after four weeks these are not effective, move to a nasal steroid spray for children.
These have been approved for children starting at age 2. Their active ingredient is a glucocorticoid (this is different than the steroid that body builders use). This steroid stays in the nasal lining and very little is absorbed into the body.
Final options may be stronger prescription medication or shots from an allergist.
Your pharmacist, pediatrician or a retail-clinic practitioner can help you choose the best course of treatment and recommend important allergy-avoidance measures.
Prevention and treatment go hand in hand. Your focus should be a holistic and positive approach.
Mary Hull is a mother of three living in San Dimas and a Family Nurse Practitioner at Minute Clinic locations in Burbank and Pomona. MinuteClinic offers camp physicals at locations inside select CVS pharmacy stores in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and Ventura counties.