Tips for Seasonal Allergy Sufferers

Spring is has officially sprung!  For some folks, the warmer weather comes with itchy, watery eyes, a scratchy throat, and a runny nose.

Dr. John O’Reilly, a pediatrician a Baystate Children’s Hospital, offers some tips to help your child deal with allergies this upcoming season.

  1. Allergies 101

Many people know the symptoms, but what exactly is an allergy and what’s actually happening to your body in the process?  Allergies are an abnormal response of the immune system.  Children who suffer from allergies have bodies that react to usually harmless substances in the environment.  These substances, like pollen, mold, and animal dander are referred to as antigens.

In the allergy cascade, your body is exposed to an antigen that you are allergic to- pollen, dust, cat hair, etc. then your body responds with releasing chemicals that make you itch, your nose run, and make your eyes red and watery.

2. Know your season

There are different types of allergies, so it’s important to know what season or seasons affect your child.  Spring allergies occur when the weather starts to warm up and all of the plants begin to release their pollen.  As the grasses, tree, flowers and weeds release their pollen, they become airborne and we inhale them.  As the spring winds down and summer hits the region, pollen production slows and there is a bit of a break and some relief for springtime allergy sufferers. The local paper and weather forecasters do a good job of keeping you informed of the pollen levels in your region. This will help you prepare and adjust your medication accordingly.

Fall comes with its own set of pollen and allergies as different plants begin their season.  As fall comes to an end, the first frost kills all of the plant and the seasonal allergy season comes to an end.  However, that doesn’t mean relief for all allergy sufferers. Wintertime comes with its own set of allergies.  During the winter, many are confined indoors and that’s when those who suffer from perennial allergies have a hard time. The body’s response to perennial allergies is similar to seasonal allergies, the antigens are just different.  Dust mites, mold, cat hair, dog dander and second hand smoke are just a few triggers that can affect children with perennial allergies.

3. Allergy vs Illness

Many times allergies can be mistaken for an illness.  So how do you distinguish between what’s an allergy and what’s an illness?  The simple answer is listening to what your child’s body is telling you. When you have a virus or bacteria your body responds in a different way.  The body will see the virus or cold and react with different chemicals. Instead of an itchy or runny nose, you’ll get a fever and you’ll start to feel sick.

Viral illnesses generally only last between 7-10 days, but your child may have a lingering cough for a few weeks.  The body creates the fever to fight off the virus; in turn helping the body gets rid of the virus making you feel better.

If it’s an allergy, it’s more about when you are exposed to the antigen or substance that you are allergic to, whereas if you have an illness you are usually sick all day long.

    4. Treatment

Allergies can be treated in a number of ways. The first and most important thing is if you can avoid the allergen, it is best to do so.  If you know you know you’re going somewhere that will cause your child to react, try to reduce the allergen first and if not come prepared.  Talk to your doctor and find out what medicine is right for your child and have them take it before the exposure.

There are a number of different medications that kids can take before being exposed to an allergen that will prevent an allergic response.  It’s important to tailor your child’s medications to their symptoms.  The trick is to try the least amount of medicines with the least amount of side effects.  For example, Benadryl is an antihistamine that does come with side effects. For some kids it can make them feel sleepy, while others are more hyper.  If you know this medicine has either effect on your child, talk to your doctor about other options.

If your child primarily has eye allergies, there are a number of over- the-counter allergy eye drops that you can use.  The same goes for children with nasal symptoms.  A lot of people will use saline flushes to try and get as much of the pollen or antigen out of your nasal passage as you can.  If you mostly have an itchy, runny nose you should start with a non-drowsy antihistamine like Claritin or Zyrtec.  When you get into nasal congestion, swelling and difficulty breathing, talk to your doctor about adding a nasal steroid like Flonase.

  1. Long term effect of allergies

While they may start of as allergies, if left untreated allergies can lead to secondary sinus infections.  Your sinuses have small hairs called cilia that help keep the sinuses clear. Allergies can cause your sinuses to become swollen, making it harder for the cilia to clear bacteria and other germs out. This can cause bacteria to build up and grow in the sinus cavity, resulting in a sinus infection. Sinus infections usually come along with a cough, a low grade fever and pressure in your sinuses.

For some, medications still don’t help their quality of life.  Children with significant allergies and other illnesses like Asthma are at risk of their allergies triggering an attack.   For those cases it may be worth asking your primary care physician about a referral to an allergist.  There are different tests that can be done to identify what antigens you’re allergic to. Some even opt to have regular allergy shots to help keep their symptoms under control.

For more information about Baystate Children’s Hospital log onto BaystateHealth.org/BCH

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