Silver Spring, Md, April 27, 2013- Spring is when the world comes back to life. The ground thaws, flowers bloom and trees leaf. However, all that beautiful blooming of nature brings with it lots of pollen, and for some this means misery. For adults, allergies can be managed with medication: prescriptions for serious problems and over-the-counter medications for those who only experience an occasional symptom. But what about young children?
Seasonal allergies can come in the full range of severity, from a slightly stuffy nose, to full on sneezing fits and teary eyes that make the allergy sufferer appear like she is endlessly crying. Aside from the visible misery that allergies can cause, they can cause problems concentrating, increase irritability, and effect sleep quality. More importantly, if left untreated, seasonal allergies can lead to more severe health problems including asthma and chronic ear infections.
Most people are surprised to find out that the culprits of the allergic pollen tend not to be the showy flowers, but more frequently the non-flowering trees, grasses and low-growing weeds. Seasonal allergies have become such a problem, that many local newscasts include pollen count and type of pollen in the weather forecasts. Oak, ash, birch, grass, and ragweed are all common names that wind up on the pollen warning lists.
You may think that all seasonal allergies would be in the spring, but just as there are people that are allergic to plants that flower at the beginning of the season, there are people who are allergic to those that flower towards the end of the summer and into fall. There are also people who are allergic to mold, which can peak during warm, humid months and can continue with the leaf fall in autumn right up until the first frost. Allergy season generally runs from March through October for much of the United States.
Weather can also be a key factor in how badly allergies flare up. Hot, dry weather, and wind that can blow pollen around hit allergy suffers the worst. Rain helps remove pollen from the air, and cold weather can be a relief to mold allergy suffers.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says that while most children’s seasonal allergies appear in the early school years, they can appear as early as the second year of life. The condition is almost twice as likely to develop in boys than in girls, and genetics play a large part in allergies. So, if either parent gets hay fever, there is an increased chance your child will too.
Since our culture has developed a penchant for our creature comforts and climate controlled environment, children are spending less time outdoors. This can help minimize suffering caused by seasonal allergies, as the pollen that triggers the symptoms is filtered out of the air. However, if your child does start sneezing, do not automatically assume she is allergic. When pollen counts reach their highest levels, even normally asymptomatic children may begin sneezing. The high levels of pollen in the air can irritate nasal passages and elicit a response, but this is not the immune response that is a true allergy.
Symptoms of allergies can resemble those of a cold. Also know as hay fever, seasonal allergies can present with sneezing, a running nose with clear mucus, congestion, itchy or watering eyes, a scratchy throat, and ear problems. If your child is running a fever, call your pediatrician. Allergies do not cause fevers, and your child should be seen to rule out a respiratory infection that needs treatment. Symptoms of hay fever also come and go, and vary in intensity as pollen levels rise and fall and with your child’s exposure. A very allergic child who is allowed to stay inside may experience some relief from her symptoms.
Most over-the-counter allergy medications are intended for older children. So, if your child is one of those who develop seasonal allergies early, you may have to suffer through for a few seasons. Before giving your child any medication, especially for toddlers and children under the recommended age listed on the packaging, talk to your doctor to see if there is a safe dose you can provide or if the drugs are off limits.
If your child is too young for antihistamines, try to help by keeping the windows closed. Change the air filter on your HVAC unit and run the air conditioner so that the air in the house is filtered. Dust the house with a damp cloth or static cloth to make sure you are picking up any pollen rather than kicking it back into the air. And keep a box of tissues handy.
While watching your child’s puffy eyes water may break your heart as much as having them cry, keep in mind that seasonal allergies will pass as the season changes.
Follow Brighid on Twitter a @BrighidMoret and receive updates when new columns post on Facebook or Google+. She also writes picture book reviews at Big Reads For Little Hands. Read more about first time parenting issues in Parenting the First Time Through at The Communities at The Washington Times.
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