Spring is finally here! Sunny warm days, flowers, green grass, budding trees and “Achoo!!”, allergies. Yes, spring is beautiful but some children find it difficult to enjoy due to allergy symptoms.
What causes allergy symptoms?
Allergy symptoms occur when your body comes in contact with an allergen. An allergen is a normally harmless substance such as pollen or animal dander that some people are oversensitive to. When a susceptible person is exposed to an allergen, his or her immune system overreacts and goes into action. This produces the symptoms of an allergic reaction. There are many types of allergies and allergic reactions but we will focus on the reactions typical of spring time allergies, allergic rhinitis and allergic conjunctivitis.
Who is at risk for allergies?
Allergies can develop at any age but they most commonly show up during childhood or early adulthood. It has been estimated that between 10 to 30 percent of adults and children have allergic rhinitis (hay fever). Allergies tend to run in families. A child with one allergic parent has about a 25% chance of developing allergies; if two parents are allergic then the risk increases to about 60%
What are the symptoms of springtime allergies?
Red, watery, itchy eyes; puffiness around eyes; sneezing; runny itchy nose; post nasal drip; nasal swelling and congestion; itchy ear canals, itching of the mouth and throat; dry cough; hives; headaches; irritability.
How can you help your child find relief of these symptoms?
If you know your child’s triggers for allergy symptoms then avoiding them when possible is ideal. If your child has been outside, showering and changing as soon as they come in will help. Also, rinsing your child’s nose with a saltwater rinse (available over the counter) can help. Artificial Tears can provide relief from eye irritation, especially if refrigerated, and can help decrease eye rubbing. You can also try over the counter antihistamines. Allegra, Claritin and Zyrtec are safe if used as directed. These antihistamines are less likely to cause sedation than Benadryl which works very well for allergy symptoms but might cause your child to fall asleep in school. Over the counter decongestant nasal sprays should be avoided since they can be “addicting” and can cause worse congestion when stopped.
Other allergy medications include steroid nasal spray (Flonase, Rhinocort, Nasacort). These medications were formerly available only by prescription but now are OTC (over the counter). These medications are safe if used correctly although they can cause nosebleeds if used for prolonged periods. Other nasal sprays are also available (Nasalcrom, Atrovent, Astelin). These are not steroid preparations and each works in a different way to control allergy symptoms. Singulair, an oral medication, is used for asthma and allergies. It is a leukotriene modifier. Leukotrienes are chemicals that your body releases when you breathe in an allergen. These chemicals play a key role in causing allergy symptoms. Singulair works to inhibit leukotrienes, thus preventing allergy symptoms.
Antihistamine eye drops are also available for children with severe allergic eye symptoms. Many of these medications are available over the counter. Eye drops that claim to “get the red out” should be avoided, since they can have serious side effects.
Most children will find significant relief with the over the counter medications by themselves or in combination with prescription allergy medication. If your child continues to be miserable despite all of these therapies then your child’s pediatrician might suggest an appointment with an allergist.
Article written by Sue Gaston, M.D.