Spring and summer months bring along with the nice weather, seasonal allergies. Children however, can also suffer from hay fever or seasonal allergies. The tendency to develop allergies is hereditary, in other words, tends to run in families. If both parents have allergies, there is a 75- 80% chance that their children will develop allergies. If one parent is allergic, then the chance of an allergy developing in his/her child is about 40%.Usually children develop seasonal allergies after 5-6 years of age. Before that, the most common sign of allergy is asthma, which begins most frequently between the ages of 1-3 years.
Because most children are exposed to indoor irritants during a high proportion of their first few years of life, we tend to see symptoms related to indoor alleges – such as stuffy nose and asthma. These are usually worse during the winter, but less severe during the summer months. As children get older we see a kind of shift in the pattern: they are better during the winter but show seasonal symptoms, usually in the spring, summer and fall. Not all children follow this same pattern. Some younger children, although infrequently, can have seasonal symptoms. More typically though, others will only develop seasonal allergies later on in life, even in adulthood. The symptoms of summer/seasonal allergy can be broken down into three main groups:
1. Nasal: runny or stuffy nose, itchy nose, itchy palate(the top of the mouth), frequent sneezing.
2. Eye symptoms: redness, itchy and/or runny eyes. Sometimes these symptoms make a child very uncomfortable.
3. Asthma: symptoms include wheezing, cough and/or difficulty breathing.
Causes of seasonal allergies
The most common pollens causing spring/summertime allergies include:
- Tree pollens (APRIL-JUNE): Maple, Ash, Oak, Elm, Birch and Cedar. When they pollinate depends on the area in which you live.
- Grasses (JUNE-JULY): Kentucky Blue grass, Rye, Orchard and Timothy. Grass allergies are worsened when the grass (lawn) is mowed.
- Ragweed (MID-AUGUST-OCTOBER): Ragweed pollen is such an important cause of seasonal allergies that many municipalities have laws that make it illegal to allow these weeds in gardens, backyards and open fields, Interestingly, some regions are less affected than others; The west coast does not have any ragweed.
Confirming seasonal allergies
The only way to determine whether a child has a seasonal allergy and to which specific pollen he or she is allergic to is a skin prick allergy test or a special blood test called RAST. Identifying exactly what a child is allergic to can help us better prepare for the seasonal allergy period(s). Knowing which pollens an asthmatic child is allergic to can help parents better prepare for the summer allergy season by starting preventative medications just before the particular pollen starts to become airborne in high concentrations. In younger children(under 6 years of age), skin allergy tests tend to be unreliable for pollen allergies, so in younger children the diagnosis is made by the history of repetitive nature and timing of the symptoms occurring during same time of the year.
Approaching seasonal allergies:
- During the summer months, pollen levels fluctuate from day to day, but seem to be higher during hot humid days. Pollen index levels are readily available on TV, radio and newspapers.
- Keeping all doors and windows closed as much as possible during the pollen season will prevent the pollen from entering the home.(Pollen counts are highest the morning, so avoid opening your windows particulrily before noon)
- During the pollen season avoid hanging the laundry outside to dry as the dried clothing or bedding will carry pollen indoors.
- Air conditioners help this as they can filter out the pollen. Additionally windows need to be closed during air conditioner use.
Treating seasonal allergies:
The specific treatment of seasonal allergies depends on the age and individual situaion. Your child’s health care professional will determine which medication(s), if any, is best for your child. The following are some general facts:
- When using allergy medications parents should be aware that these treat the symptoms and not the cause of the allergy in their children. The best approach is to identify and then avoid what a child is specifically allergic to.
- Antihistamine medications given by mouth as needed can help certain children with allergic symptoms. While the older antihistamines caused sleepiness, the newer ones tend not to. It is a good idea to avoid antihistamines that make a child drowsy or sleepy during the day.
- Specific “anti-allergic’ eye drops containing anti-histamines can help relieve eye symptoms.
- Inhaled nasal preparations (pumps) containing steroids are considered to be safe and effective in children who suffer from nasal allergies. These medications, available by prescription only, are effective if used regularly for a period of time. Using inhaled nasal steroids on and off irregularly is not very effective.
- Note that: Over-the-counter nasal decongestant sprays are generally not recommended in children. In fact prolonged use of these medications may actually make matters worse.
- Asthma symptoms brought on by seasonal pollens are treated with the appropriate asthma medications as they will not respond to the antihistamine (anti-allergic) medications.
Pediatrician DR.PAUL Roumeliotis is certified by the American Board of Pediatrics and Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. The information provided above is designed to be an educational aid only. It is not intended to replace the advice and care of your child’s physician, nor is it intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment. If you suspect that your child has a medical condition always consult a physician.