Thursday, April 01, 2004
Cold or allergy? Only the doc knows for sure :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
Ahhh. There's nothing like the first warm days of spring after a long winter of being cooped up indoors with our kids.
Ahhh ... choo!
However, the blooming flowers, budding trees and grass often lead to sneezing, runny eyes and itchy noses for kids with allergies.
That's right. It's that time again. Late March through June is tree pollen season in Chicago. Grass pollen peaks here from May through July, followed by ragweed from August through October.
Allergic rhinitis, more commonly known as hay fever, is one of the most common chronic conditions in the United States, affecting nearly 36 million Americans, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
Most allergies begin in childhood, according to the Harvard Medical School's consumer health information service. Allergies usually come from a combination of genetics and environment. A child with one allergic parent has a 30 to 50 percent chance of developing allergies.
"A family history of allergy is the greatest known risk factor for [allergies]," says Richard Wasserman, an allergist/immunologist and chairman of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology's education committee. "So chances are, if you and your child are experiencing symptoms due to the blooming trees, grasses or weeds, your child may not have a cold at all. They may have allergies."
It's best to diagnose and treat seasonal allergies in kids early to help prevent long-term complications, such as asthma, ear aches or sinus infections, according to the Academy. Symptoms can make kids cranky and lead to behavior problems such as temper tantrums and hyperactivity; they also can cause poor concentration in school.
"Earlier detection of children who might have asthma and allergies would lead to better and earlier management," says Raoul Wolf, a pediatric allergist at the University of Chicago and LaRabida Children's Hospital.
Children who rub their noses upward in what is known as the "allergy salute" may be giving parents their first clue that they have allergies. The sneezing and running noses that are signs of allergies are often mistaken for the common cold, pediatricians say.
Allergies are more common in kids exposed to air pollution, pets and secondhand smoke. For kids allergic to dust mites, mold and/or pet dander, allergies can aggravate year round.
Parents should ask their child's pediatrician about the possibility of allergies if their child has itching or allergy symptoms lasting more than a week without a fever. Symptoms can include throat clearing, a cough that is worse at night or in the morning and a stuffy or runny nose with clear drainage. Kids also can develop dark circles under their eyes caused by nasal congestion.
Parents may want to have an allergist/immunologist test their child. An allergy specialist has two to three years of special training in the diagnosis and treatment of allergies. The best way to determine whether a child has a seasonal allergy is a skin-prick allergy test. Identifying the specific pollen a child is allergic to helps parents and doctors better prepare for the seasonal allergy period.
An allergist may prescribe medications, such as antihistamines, decongestants, steroids or asthma medication and allergy vaccine therapy.
But medication isn't the only solution. Once you know what allergens are causing the problem, it may be possible to avoid them. For example, parents can help kids combat seasonal allergies by:
• Keeping windows closed in the car and at home to decrease pollen exposure
• Limiting outdoor activities when pollen counts are highest. In spring, tree pollen is highest in the early morning. In the summer, grass pollen is worse in the afternoon and early evening. In the fall, ragweed peaks at midday.
• Avoiding hanging laundry outside to dry.
The dried clothing or bedding will carry pollen indoors.
• Using air conditioners to help filter out pollen.
• Using zippered, plastic covers on pillows and mattresses to reduce the presence of dust mites.
• Minimizing stuffed animals.
• Removing carpet from the bedroom, if possible; if not, vacuuming once or twice a week.
• Washing bedding and stuffed animals in hot water (130 degrees Fahrenheit) weekly.
• Keeping indoor relative humidity below 50 percent to decrease dust mite growth,
• Bathing pets once a week and making the bedroom a pet-free zone.
• Changing and cleaning cooling and heating system filters once a month.
• Vacuuming and dusting frequently.
• Limiting time spent in windy weather, which can aggravate allergies.
• Having your child wear sunglasses outdoors to keep pollen from irritating the eyes.
For more information, visit the Academy's Web site, www.aaaai.org, or call its physician information and referral line at (800) 822-2762.
Susan Dodge is Ben's mother and a writer living in northwest Indiana.