Goodbye, winter. Hello, spring. Most kids get excited for the warm temperatures and sunshine, but not so much for the ensuing sniffles and watery eyes that come with springtime allergies.
Unfortunately, we can’t do much 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, it can also be quite miserable for kids with allergies.
Recognize the symptoms
The best thing parents can do during allergy season is recognize allergy symptoms, which can change from year to year, and do their best to minimize their effects.
Be on the lookout for sneezing, clear nasal drainage, fatigue, an itchy nose or mouth, and watering, red or itchy eyes. These are the telltale signs of seasonal allergic rhinitis, otherwise known as hay fever. Some children may have more subtle symptoms, such as snoring at night or a more nasal-sounding voice.
Allergies and asthma
While all of those symptoms are certainly irritating, in children with a history of asthma, a much more serious effect 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 more than 20 percent of children in the United States age 17 and under have nasal allergies, and most of these have some seasonal variation to their symptoms. There is a strong association between allergies and asthma, so this number is even higher in children with a personal history of asthma or with family members who have allergies or asthma.
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 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 between 5-10 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.
- Take a shower before bed to help prevent pollen from interfering with sleep.
- Be sure to take medications as prescribed.
- Minimize your child’s exposure to second-hand smoke: don’t smoke around your child or in your home.
- Use hypoallergenic pillows, comforters or other bedding.
If your child has a seasonal allergy or asthma — or you suspect that they do — you should consult with your child’s pediatrician who can treat many general cases. There may be situations, however, in which your child would be referred to an allergist or pulmonologist.
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.
Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin has primary care offices conveniently located throughout southeast Wisconsin, including Bayshore Pediatrics located in Fox Point, Wis. Find a pediatrician near you.
Learn more about Susan Light, MD.