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Little girl with allergies

How to keep seasonal allergies from interrupting your summer

One day, everyone in your household is happily looking forward to the warm summer, and the next, someone starts sniffling. It could be a cold. Or, more likely, it could be seasonal allergies.

Unfortunately, with warmer weather comes plants and trees releasing pollen into the air and it can be quite miserable for kids with allergies.

What you can do at home

The first thing you can do as a parent is recognize allergy symptoms (which can change from year to year) and do your best to minimize them. Once you hear that first sniffle or sneeze, look for continued sneezing, clear nasal drainage, fatigue, an itchy nose or mouth, or watery red or itchy eyes. These are all common signs of seasonal allergic rhinitis, otherwise known as hay fever. Some children may have more subtle symptoms, such as snoring at night, headaches or a more nasal-sounding voice.

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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 counts are highest.

  • Keep windows closed at night and use air conditioning, which cleans, cools and dries the air.

  • 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.

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 summertime winds often take pollen spores higher up into the atmosphere away from where kids would breathe them in.

Medication

For children who suffer from allergies, there are many effective medications. The most common medications used for treating the symptoms of allergies are antihistamines and decongestants.

Antihistamines are used to relieve or prevent the symptoms of hay fever and other allergies. Antihistamines prevent the effects of histamine, a substance produced by the body during an allergic reaction, and come in tablet, capsule, liquid or injection form. They are available both over-the-counter and by prescription.

Decongestants are used to treat nasal congestion and other symptoms associated with colds and allergies. Decongestants cause the blood vessels to narrow, thus, leading to the clearing of nasal congestion. Decongestants are available both over-the-counter and by prescription. The most commonly used forms are liquid and tablet.

Always consult your child's doctor before giving your child any over-the-counter medications.

Immunotherapy (allergy shots)

While allergies and asthma can be frustrating when the warmer weather approaches, treatments continue to get better making it possible for your child to enjoy spring and summer without a runny nose or watery eyes.

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Immunotherapy is a type of treatment and a potential cure for allergic children with hay fever and/or asthma. This is most commonly known as allergy shots. It is a patient-specific mixture of allergy extracts such as pollens, mold spores, animal dander and dust mites to which they are allergic. It is injected under the skin and, with time, modifies the immune system to not react to those allergens. These extracts contain no medication like antihistamines.

About 80 to 90 percent of children improve with immunotherapy. It usually takes from 12 to 18 months before definite reduction in allergy symptoms is noticed, though some kids will see a reduction in symptoms in as little as six to eight months.

Allergies and asthma

While all symptoms of allergies are certainly irritating, in children with a history of asthma, a much more serious consequence can be an asthma attack. This happens when the lining of the airway 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. Not all patients will have wheezing and many times nighttime cough after activity are the first sign of asthma issues. Watch for rapid, labored breathing and coughing.

If your child has seasonal allergies or asthma — or you suspect that they do — consult with your child’s pediatrician. There may be situations, however, in which your child would be referred to an allergist or pulmonologist.