Spring weather can trigger allergies in children, especially those whose family members also have allergies. (Courtesy photo)

Picture this: it’s springtime and your child comes to you with sneezing, a stuffy or runny nose, itchy eyes, throat clearing, and possibly even a rash. What is going on?

This is likely allergies. You may have heard of it as “hay fever.” That refers to allergies that only happen at certain times of the year. For each child, what triggers these symptoms may be different. Some of the more common triggers, or allergens, are found in the environment, such as pollen from trees, grass, or weeds.

Mold is another well-known trigger. Mold is more commonly seen in damp environments. Inside the home, animal dander, or pests such as dust mites, cockroaches, or even mice may be the culprit. In some cases, foods or medications can contain allergens.

These symptoms often mimic a cold. Caregivers may have trouble telling the two apart. Generally, allergies stand out from colds due to the associated itchy eyes or nose, as well as itchy rashes usually found on skin creases such as the elbows or knees.

Allergies are also more common in children whose family members also have allergies. They can develop at any age but can first be discovered with a change in environment such as moving to a new home or geographic area. If not managed with strategies or medication, these symptoms can be disruptive. They can affect a child’s ability to pay attention in school, or enjoy time at home with family, or playing with peers.

As a parent, there are several ways to manage allergies. The first step is to be aware of symptoms and triggers. If your child’s symptoms are triggered by the outdoors, air quality can help you determine when your child may be most affected. Air quality is a measure of how significant certain pollutants are in the air outside.

Many weather apps will include the Air Quality Index (AQI), a daily rating of air pollution in your area. Your local Air Quality Index is also available free at AirNow.gov. These ratings use a color scale, from green (good air quality) to red (bad air quality), and a corresponding number from 0 (good) to 500 (bad).

These give you an idea of the air quality outside for that day (and even for that particular hour) and a prediction for the following day. You can use this information to plan outdoor activities and determine what precautions you need to take.

Sometimes children may have symptoms even when the air quality rating is the safest (less than 100). If your child goes outside on these days, have them take a bath or shower, wash their hair, and change their clothes when they get home to get rid of the allergens. If possible, use air conditioning instead of opening windows on the windiest days to help prevent allergens from entering the home.

Inside the home, dust regularly, especially in bedrooms. Wash linens and other bedding at least every 2-3 weeks in hot water to kill dust mites. Also, if there is concern for any pest infestation, arrange for exterminating services. Your child’s pediatrician can assist by writing a letter if you have difficulty getting your landlord to help.

If your child is still struggling with allergies despite these strategies, there are several treatments to try.

  1. Nasal rinses (also called nasal saline irrigation or Neti pots) work by rinsing the insides of the nose with salt water. This can remove any dust or pollen and even loosen thick mucus. You can buy these over the counter or make your own here.
  2. Antihistamines (such as Zyrtec, Claritin, or Benadryl) – Available over the counter, these can help relieve itchiness, watery eyes, a runny nose, and sneezing. However, some make people feel tired, and should not be given to young children. Read the medication labels carefully and talk to your child’s doctor before trying any new medicines.
  3. Nasal corticosteroids (such as Flonase) – Given as nasal sprays used daily, these are highly effective and widely used to stop persistent allergies. Safe for long-term use in children, your child’s doctor can prescribe these although it’s possible to get some sprays over the counter. Always be sure to read the directions carefully as some may not be safe for young children.
  4. Allergy shots – Your child’s doctor might suggest allergy shots, which are usually given weekly or monthly by an allergy specialist to help de-sensitize the immune system to allergy triggers. These can also help lower your child’s risk of getting asthma later in life.

As always, contact your child’s doctor with any concerns or for more information regarding allergies or the medicines used to treat them.