Call it the other flower show – Mother Nature’s colorful display of daffodils and crocus, magnolia and forsythia that’s in full swing from Wilmington to Allentown and beyond. But along with the big bloom comes the Big Sneeze, as maples, elms and junipers unleash clouds of allergy-provoking pollen.
Thanks to a mild winter, pollen counts are breaking records along the East Coast. Levels in Philadelphia reached “high” this week according to the allergy Web site pollen.com – meaning most kids with spring allergies are sneezing. Complicating matters: Flu season’s not quite over, making it even tougher to pinpoint the cause of your child’s symptoms.
Up to 40 percent of kids have seasonal allergies – sneezing when spring kicks up tree pollen, or when summer brings grass pollen and fall delivers ragweed. In one recent survey, 75 percent of parents said spring allergies were worst for their kids – interfering with sleep, school performance and activities like sports and music.
My child is allergic to some sort of tree pollen. Fortunately, it’s not severe. But it usually takes me a few days to figure out what’s going on each spring. How can you tell whether your child’s got a seasonal allergy, cold or a case of flu that deserves a trip to the doctor’s office? According to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, look for these signs:
Common cold symptoms: Stuffy, runny nose; sneezing; mild cough; slight aches and pains; mild fatigue; sore throat; an occasional headache; some slight aches and pains; normal energy level; low or no fever.
Flu: High fever; always a headache; severe body aches and pains; severe exhaustion; cough (can be severe); a clear or stuffy nose; occasional sore throat; occasional sneezing.
Seasonal allergy: Itchy eyes; stuffy, runny, itchy nose; congestion; sore throat; chronic cough; dark circles under eyes.
Keeping tree pollen and your allergic child separated isn’t an easy task. Wind-pollinated trees like most maples release cloudbursts of pollen; the idea is that some of it is bound to hit the target (another flower, on another maple tree) – and produce seeds. That’s why the pollen is everywhere. On the hood of your car, the windows of your house, and in your kid’s nose. You can limit exposure by not hanging laundry out to dry on high-pollen days, by keeping doors and windows shut, and by having kids take baths or showers at bedtime and washing their hair to remove pollen before sleeping. (A clean pillowcase may help, too.)
Ask your doctor which prescription or over-the-counter medications will help. If symptoms don’t ease up, call back. Seasonal allergies can lead to ear infections, sinus infections and can make asthma worse – and that’s nothing to sneeze at.