Goodbye, winter. Be gone and take your polar vortex with you! Hello, spring. Bring the warm temperatures and sunshine, but take it easy on the pollen count, OK?
The truth is, there isn’t much we can do about plants and trees releasing pollen into the air. While this natural flowering process gives rise to all the beautiful vegetation that makes spring such a wonderful time of rebirth, it can also be quite miserable for kids with allergies.
Maple, elm, birch, oak and ash trees, we’re looking in your direction. These are the biggest pollen offenders, at least until grass begins to pollinate in mid-May.
Recognize the symptoms
The best that parents can do during allergy season is to recognize the symptoms — which could change from year to year — and do their best to minimize their effects.
Be on the lookout for sneezing, clear nasal drainage, extra fatigue, an itchy nose or mouth, and watering or red, itchy eyes that come along with seasonal allergic rhinitis. Or, you know, hay fever. As one who has suffered from allergies and lives in Wisconsin, I know these symptoms can sneak up on you. I will often see my children rubbing their eyes in April, forgetting that even though we are still wearing warm clothes, the trees are budding and the pollens have started to spread.
While all of those symptoms are certainly irritating, a much more serious affect of allergies can be an asthma attack. This happens when the lining of the airways becomes inflamed, causing the surrounding muscles to constrict. Breathing becomes more difficult, even painful, and can produce a whistling or wheezing sound as air rushes through the narrowed passages. Watch for rapid, labored breathing and coughing.
Recent figures say 10 percent of children in the United States 17 and under have struggled with hay fever. The percentage is the same for asthma, although the number of kids with asthma who have suffered at least one asthma attack in the past 12 months jumps to 60 percent.
The good news is, while nature can give us high pollen counts, it also can take them away. A healthy bout of rain tends to clear the air, and those strong springtime winds often take pollen spores higher up into the atmosphere, away from where children would breathe them in. It’s those beautiful, light breezy spring days you have to watch out for.
What you can do
Here are some tips to keep the effects of allergies and asthma at bay during pollen season:
- Minimize outdoor activities early in the morning — Most kids don’t want to be up that early anyway, right? — between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. That’s when pollen is most prevalent.
- Keep car windows closed while driving.
- Do not hang bedding or clothing outside to dry.
- Wash hands and face, and change clothes after playing or working outside. Also take a shower before bed. This will help prevent pollen from contaminating your house.
- Be sure to take medications as prescribed by your doctor.
If your child has a seasonal allergy or asthma — or you suspect that he or she does — consult your child’s doctor, allergist or pulmonologist. Your pediatrician can treat many general cases, but there may be situations in which your child would be referred to a specialist. While allergies and asthma can’t be cured (yet), modern treatments and medications are getting better all the time, making it quite possible to turn your child’s season of sniffles into a happy-go-lucky jaunt through these warm-weather months.
- Sharyl Paley, MD, pediatrician, Bayshore Pediatrics