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For many kids, the arrival of spring brings not just blooming flowers and warmer weather but also the pesky onset of seasonal allergies. A whopping 7.1 million children in the United States grapple with environmental allergies, making it a common medical concern for parents. At Northwest Specialty Hospital, we see our fair share of allergy sufferers in this corner of the country, so we’re no stranger to how these allergies can take some of the fun out of the season.


If you are concerned about seasonal allergies in your children, either because you experience them yourself or you have seen your children exhibit symptoms in the past, here is some helpful information to help you recognize the signs in your child and how you can go about finding effective strategies for prevention and treatment.


Recognizing Allergy Symptoms in Kids


Many different things can cause allergic reactions in children and adults, including medicines, pet dander, foods, dust mites, insect stings, and chemicals. Reactions can range from sneezing and itching or rashes. The most severe allergic reactions may cause loss of consciousness or even death. Thankfully, however, most allergic reactions are mild, even if they are bothersome. Allergic reactions to things that are harmless to others are due to a person’s immunological response. Allergens – what causes an allergic reaction – trigger the body’s immune system to overreact to the threat.


Seasonal allergies, also called hay fever, manifest when airborne irritants (allergens) trigger allergic reactions in the eyes, nose, and throat. In spring, the primary culprits are flower and tree pollen, followed by grass pollen in late spring and summer. As the seasons transition to late summer and fall, weed pollen, like ragweed, and mold spores become more prevalent. Your child may be allergic to one or several of these irritants, and it is often difficult to determine precisely what is provoking the reaction.


An interesting item to note is that children under two are less likely to develop environmental allergies, as exposure to allergens is a prerequisite for developing an allergic response. That also means children who have never exhibited hay fever may suddenly do so. It is also not uncommon for people to develop allergies after moving to a different part of the country since different types of plants grow in different areas.


When your child starts exhibiting symptoms, you may mistake hay fever for a cold; consequently, it may take you a while to realize your child is having an allergic reaction. However, the sooner you correctly identify the problem, the sooner your child can get treatment. Watch out for a runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, itchy eyes, sore throat, coughing, and even dark circles under the eyes. These symptoms are not merely uncomfortable; they can have more severe repercussions. Hay fever can be unrelenting, and the longer these symptoms persist, the more your child may experience fatigue and concentration issues in school due to disrupted sleep. These symptoms can also increase the risk of ear and sinus infections, asthma exacerbations, and behavioral problems.


Minimizing Exposure to Allergy Triggers


While you may be unable to eliminate all allergens, there are practical steps to minimize your child’s exposure to whatever is causing the reaction. Here are some basic steps:


  • Wash hands and face: Encourage your children to wash their hands and faces immediately upon returning from outdoor play to prevent rubbing pollen into their eyes and nose.


  • House Cleaning: If your child is allergic to pollen, you can reduce the amount that has wafted into your home through the doors or windows or has been tracked in on shoes and clothing by keeping furniture and flooring well-vacuumed using a HEPA filter. Air purifiers, which remove particulate from the air, can also help. 


  • Opt for Air Conditioning: As pleasant as opening the windows may be when the weather is nice, keep doors and windows closed in your home and car and rely on air conditioning to keep the air filtered and recirculating instead. 


  • Check Pollen Levels: Monitor pollen forecasts online and, at peak times, limit your child’s outdoor activities.


  • Machine Drying: To prevent pollen from coating clothing, always dry laundry in a dryer rather than hanging it outside. Also, clean clothing and bedding more often.


  • Nighttime Bathing: Schedule your child’s bath or shower at bedtime to address nighttime allergy issues and to remove allergens from hair and skin. As noted above, clean bedding can also help; look for bedding with allergen barriers.


Treatment Options for Seasonal Allergies

Allergies are common, and many available safe and effective treatments can alleviate specific allergy symptoms. Remember that allergies result from an immune response, so there is no “cure.” However, children sometimes “outgrow” allergies in the sense that their immune systems may not respond the same after a few years. For others, an allergy will last their whole lives.

Here are some common allergy relievers, which you can generally obtain over-the-counter:


  • Nasal Saline Sprays: These flush out allergens and relieve nasal congestion. Medicated nasal sprays, especially those containing steroids, are recommended for their effectiveness and safety. Nasal gels can also be used to trap pollen and other irritants before they reach the lungs.


  • Oral Antihistamines: These block histamine, a chemical released during allergic reactions, to prevent the reaction from progressing. Many antihistamines may cause drowsiness, while others have fewer side effects. Read the labels carefully and follow the recommendations. You may have to try a few different ones before you find the one you prefer. Be sure to get the correct type and dosage for younger children, and consult a pediatric care specialist if you have questions.


  • Eye Drops: For itchy, swollen eyes, topical eye drops containing antihistamines are often more effective than oral medications for alleviating this symptom. Again, read labels carefully, as some eye drops should not be applied for prolonged use. 


Diagnosis and Long-Term Management

If you suspect your child has seasonal allergies, consult a healthcare professional. Correct diagnosis often involves examining symptoms and may include a skin prick test or blood test to identify the specific allergens to which your child reacts.

Long-term management options, such as immune therapy (allergy shots or sublingual/oral immunotherapy), may need to be explored if your child’s symptoms are severe or if your child is allergic to multiple allergens. 

As much as we all look forward to spring after North Idaho’s long winters, spring can bring the discomfort of annoying allergies for some children. If your child suffers from spring allergies, visit one of our pediatric specialists to learn more about what might trigger the reaction and investigate which preventive measures and treatments will be most effective. Together, we can find a way to help your children navigate the season with minimal discomfort so that they can enjoy all that spring and summer have to offer. Call Northwest Pediatrics to schedule an appointment. 

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