Here’s how to potentially make spring allergies less painful

Today’s guest blogger is Alana Jones, DO, a pediatric allergist at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children.

With the spring-like weather we’ve been having lately, it’s definitely the time to start thinking about seasonal allergies. Even under ‘normal’ winter conditions, Valentine’s Day is an ideal date to begin pre-treating the symptoms of springtime allergies. In this part of the U.S., tree pollen starts to emerge in early to mid March. We suggest treating kids with known allergies to tree pollen starting on or about February 14 as a pre-emptive strike.

When started on certain medications a few weeks in advance of blooming pollen, children may not need other remedies to get through the height of allergy season. Peak season for spring allergies is from early April to early May, although it varies from year to year. In 2016, for example, the month of May seemed worse than April for those with allergies.

The typical symptoms of spring allergies include itchy nose, eyes, skin and even the roof of the mouth; lots of sneezing, runny nose, congestion and eye tearing. When these effects persist, kids may experience fatigue, poor sleep, and difficulty concentrating, which can affect school and other activities. 

Intranasal steroid medication will help to relieve inflammation in the nose as well as eye symptoms. We may also recommend over-the-counter or prescription antihistamines for itching and sneezing. In general, any child with allergic symptoms that require medication can benefit from a visit with an allergist. Allergy testing pinpoints the causes of allergic reactions thereby eliminating the guesswork of what medicines to give and when. In fact, about a third of people with allergy-like symptoms do not have allergies. Rather, there is a non-immune mechanism at work, signaling the need for different medication. We test because we want to be as precise as possible in our symptom management, and wish to neither overmedicate nor offer treatment that isn’t helpful. For example, if allergy tests are negative, we may treat the child with nasal saline rather than antihistamines.

Parents who are curious about pollen counts in their area can go to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology for information. During times of peak counts, in addition to giving the recommended medication, keep windows closed at home and in the car, avoid exposure to pollen and limit outdoor play during peak pollen hours. If children do play outside, be sure they bathe and wash their hair before going to bed. Refrain from drying clothes or linens outdoors.

The only treatment that can truly ‘fix’ allergies is allergy shots which desensitize the immune system over time. We recommend shots for kids aged 5 and older, depending on the child’s condition and their tolerance. Allergy shots are highly effective in treating not only allergic rhinitis and allergic conjunctivitis, but also associated allergic asthma and eczema. We have seen kids on allergy shots start to shine in school and in sports because they are symptom-free. Allergy shots are safe and effective, but they’re not for every child. Getting the best results involves a long term commitment – a total of three to five years. If you think your child could benefit, be sure to talk the option over with your child and your allergist.

Have a question for the Healthy Kids panel? Ask it here. Read more from the Healthy Kids blog »