The temperature is getting warmer — and many people have started sneezing, rubbing their eyes and blowing their nose on repeat.
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Spring and summer can spell misery for allergy sufferers, and that goes for kids, too.
It may be easy to recognize your own allergy symptoms, but it can be tough for even the most seasoned parent to tell the difference between childhood allergies or a cold.
One telltale sign that a child has seasonal allergies? They’re rubbing their face, says allergist Sandra Hong, MD.
“They’re rubbing their eyes and they’re rubbing their nose,” she says. “Sometimes kids will get this little tiny line, right on their nose, and it’s because they actually push up on it. So you’ll see a little crease there just from all of the rubbing of their nose that they do.”
Children who have allergies can feel quite miserable, and their symptoms can keep them from being able to concentrate in school or while participating in extracurricular activities.
Most children with seasonal allergies will sound stuffy and congested. Parents might also notice that their child is eating with their mouth open because they can’t breathe through their nose effectively, Dr. Hong says.
Some children also have asthma symptoms, causing them to feel short of breath and cough a lot.
Can I give my child allergy medicines?
Over-the-counter treatments such as saline sprays, nasal steroid sprays and antihistamines can work for children, but Dr. Hong recommends that parents talk to their pediatrician about the different medications and proper dosing. It’s also important to be on the lookout for how allergy medications make children feel.
“Monitor whether medications make them sleepy,” Dr. Hong suggests. “Some liquids or pills can cause sleepiness, so you want to make sure that you either dose them at night or choose one that’s a little bit better for your child during the day so they’re not drowsy.
If your child is having allergy symptoms all of the time, Dr. Hong advises being proactive and seeking medical treatment so they can focus on school instead of their runny nose and sneezing all day long.
8 things to keep in mind when trying to manage your child’s allergies
If allergies are getting the best of your child, the following points might help you understand the process and determine the best course of action.
Lesson #1: Know your opponent
Sneezing, nose and throat itchiness, and eye itchiness plus redness usually signal allergies. Like a cold, allergies produce nasal drainage, but it looks clear and watery. With a cold, mucus drainage is thicker and yellow or green.
Lesson #2: Age matters
Kids between 3 and 5 years old can have seasonal allergies. Indoor allergens, such as dust mites and pet dander, can affect kids as young as 1 or 2 years old. Adults can outgrow childhood allergies, or they may persist throughout their lifetime.
Lesson #3: Parents pass it on
Kids often inherit allergies from Mom or Dad. The catch: They aren’t always allergic to the same things. You inherit the ability to become allergic, not the specific allergen sensitivity.
Lesson #4: OTC medication overview
Over-the-counter medications manage allergy symptoms well for most children. Long-acting, non-sedating antihistamines like loratadine, fexofenadine and cetirizine, (sold under brand names Claritin®, Allegra®, and Zyrtec®) come in children’s formulations. They work well for sneezing and itching but do not adequately address stuffiness and drainage. Nasacort®, a nasal spray that’s available over the counter, handles all four symptoms well.
Antihistamine eye drops help with itchiness, but avoid those with redness reducers. As for decongestants, clear things with your healthcare provider before giving them to your child because they can cause a number of side effects and serious complications.
Lesson #5: Hone your delivery technique
Even if your child feels better, you can continue to give them allergy medication or nasal spray throughout pollen season.
When giving your child nasal spray, try this technique: Insert the applicator in the right nostril, not too far. Aim out toward the right eye and spray. Repeat on the left side. Proper spraying will help make the medicine work better and decrease nose bleeds, which can be a possible side effect.
Lesson #6: Pollen avoidance
Avoidance is the best treatment for allergies, but it’s tricky when the trigger wafts in the air. However, there are ways to minimize your child’s exposure to pollen. Grass and weed pollen tend to peak in the morning, so save the outdoor activities for evenings when possible. And have your child wear sunglasses when they’re playing outside to prevent itchy, irritated eyes.
Inside, you can create a pollen-free zone in your child’s bedroom. Be sure to keep the windows shut to keep the pollen out. Another thing you can do is use a HEPA filter for your central air conditioner unit or a personal air filter in your child’s room to reduce indoor pollen. And after outdoor fun, make sure your child showers and has their hair washed before going to bed.
Lesson #7: Allergy immunotherapy (either shots or sublingual tablets) might be an option
If avoidance and medications don’t adequately manage symptoms, ask your pediatrician or allergist about allergy immunotherapy. This involves a series of weekly injections over the course of months, followed by maintenance injections for several years. Allergy immunotherapy can help reduce the severity of symptoms.
Sublingual tablets are tablets that dissolve under the tongue. Patients can take them daily before their allergy season and throughout. They’re effective like shots and can be taken at home for certain allergens.
Lesson #8: Realize the dangers of untreated allergies
Kids with seasonal allergies can also have asthma. When allergies aren’t controlled, they can cause asthma flare-ups, with coughing, wheezing and breathing problems. As soon as you notice that your child is having trouble with allergies, start managing them right away. And as soon as they get out of hand, contact your healthcare provider.