By Guest Blogger, Dr. Sameena Evers, Dilworth Pediatrics
Well, there’s just no escaping the fact that Charlotte is covered in a not-so-thin coating of greenish pollen this time of year. For those of us who suffer from seasonal allergies, this can be a challenging time. Many children also have trouble with allergy symptoms which can range from a mild runny nose to constant misery. The watery discharge clogging up your nose, eyes, and ears can also unfortunately lead to ear and sinus infections and even trigger asthma attacks.
The good news is that there are a few simple things we can do to help alleviate many of these symptoms. I think of these in two categories – allergen avoidance and drug treatment. The “lifestyle” changes needed to avoid excess pollen are often overlooked but can make a big difference for most of us. If you do suffer from seasonal allergies, you just can’t plan a day of frolicking in the park and rolling around the grass without paying for it. I’m all for kids being outside but if it really sparks some tough symptoms this is the time to limit your outdoor activities to some extent. Also, make sure to rinse off and wash hair after playing outside so that you are not bringing the pollen into your bed. Other ways to decrease exposure are to keep windows closed in the house and the car. (I know, it seems like a crime to keep the fresh air out on a beautiful day.) It’s also worth mentioning that dust mites in bedding are one of the most common allergies out there and often coexist with pollen allergies. Covering the mattress and pillows to limit exposure to dust mites can make a big difference to many allergy sufferers. You can find the covers at a reasonable price at the superstores in town (i.e. Walmart, Target).
The drugs available these days are also quite effective and many are now available without a prescription. The long-acting antihistamines like Claritin and Zyrtec are probably the first line of treatment for mild to moderate allergy symptoms. They are safe to use in kids as young as 2 years of age and come in liquid, chewable, orally-dissolving tablets, and pill form. Usually these medications are taken once a day and relieve symptoms for 12-24 hours without many side effects. Benadryl is an older antihistamine that is often more effective than the newer ones for a short period of time but has drowsiness as a side effect for many. Young children are also notorious for having the opposite side effect of getting totally hyped up after a dose of Benadryl – beware.
If the over the counter medicines are still not giving you relief, it’s time to talk to your physician. The next step is usually a nasal steroid spray, several of which are approved for kids over 4 years of age. These can be very effective allergy medications. However, they are often misused. It is important to point out that these nose sprays are only effective if used EVERY day for a period of time, usually at least a week to see significant results. The medication needs to build up in your body to a certain level before you start to see any effects. I find a lot of patients are only using the medicine on bad allergy days or intermittently and this will not help relieve symptoms at all. If itchy eyes are the main source of allergy problems, the prescription medications available these days also provide good relief and can be used only on days that you are suffering. Unfortunately, the over the counter allergy eye drops are not very helpful.
Of course, if you’ve tried all of the above tips to help with your allergy symptoms and you are still miserable it is probably time to think about seeing an allergist for specialized treatment and testing. The end result is often a prolonged therapy of allergy injections based on your specific allergy profile. This is a serious undertaking for most but can produce excellent results.
I hope this information is helpful to you all. I would be happy to hear from you about suggestions for future topics.
Thank you for so much valuable information! I just wanted to add that I use Zaditor allergy eye drops (they used to be prescription but are now available over the counter). They are expensive but worth a try. They’ve done wonders for my red itchy eyes.
My husband and I are huge believers in a neti pot, my husband has a horrible time with dust and pollen and starting using one every day and it has done wonders for his sinus infections. I use it when I start to feel like I am getting a cold or when I have been somewhere dusty and you can really feel a difference. Our 6 year old has seen us doing it so much that he asked to try it and did great with it. He now will use it when he has a cold and it really loosens things up. Easy to use and no drugs!!!
Thanks for this great info! And very timely as my sister and I just had a discussion on “when do babies actually get seasonal allergies?” Her pediatrician told her her 2-month old’s runny nose was attributed to allergies but I had always heard it took a full year of seasons before kids were affected. At what age can kids develop seasonal allergies?
Good question, Tracy. Traditional pediatric training was that it takes a couple of seasons to prime one’s immune system to respond to allergens. We used to think that children could not develop seasonal allergies until they were about 2 years of age for that reason and also the fact that the infant immune system is not fully developed. Some studies have shown that there may be some development of allergies before the age of 2. I consider it a gray zone for allergy development between the ages of 1 and 2. I doubt that a small infant’s runny nose is caused by pollen allergy – much more likely to be normal mucus build-up or a mild viral infection.