It accompanies the budding trees and blooming flowers everywhere: It’s what Wilmette pediatrician Dr. Lawrence Elegant calls the “allergic salute.”
“It’s the hand continually rubbing at the nose, the eyes continually with circles around them—that’s the allergic salute,” Elegant says.
Once your child starts saluting, it’s important to take steps to treat the allergy before it turns into an “allergy march”—the term doctors use to describe the progression from allergies to more serious ailments, such as asthma.
“Fortunately, we’re diagnosing allergies younger and younger, and more and more meds are safer for little kids,” says Dr. William Stratbucker, a pediatrician on Chicago’s Near West Side.
Nowadays, he says, children as young as 2 are diagnosed and treated—usually with eye drops and antihistamines and, in more serious cases, with steroids—but parents can help keep allergies at bay, too, by limiting exposure to irritants.
Think of allergies as a cup. Each allergen—dust, pollen, dogs, cats—contributes to the cup. Once the cup is filled, any additions can spill over into an allergic reaction.
Springtime pollen can often serve as the tipping point. If a child is allergic to dogs, it may not be noticeable until the spring irritants are added to his or her “allergy cup.”
“If you remove those other allergens, it can ease the spring allergies,” Stratbucker says.
“You can’t tell a 3-year-old that they can’t run around outside, but you can close the window so the pollen doesn’t come in,” Stratbucker says. Elegant also suggests using an air filter, house fan and air conditioner.
If getting rid of the pet dog isn’t an option for helping a child cope with spring allergies, Dr. Kimberlee Curnyn, a pediatric ophthalmologist in Chicago, has some other suggestions.
For example, have a child shower after playing outside and before going to bed “so they wash off some of those allergens and they’re not sleeping with it,” Curnyn says.
“Otherwise, it settles in and kids rub their eyes while they’re asleep.”
There are easy ways to treat the symptoms as well—over-the-counter eye drops, cold washcloths or ice packs over the eyelids, she says.
“The cold brings down the swelling and shrinks the blood vessels, so there’s not as much histamine,” she says. “And also, they can’t get their fingers in there to rub.”
Most important, Elegant says, is to take your child to a pediatrician or allergist if you suspect that cough might not be more than just a cold, or that rash is more than just dry skin.
That’s what Valerie denBoer of Oak Park did when her daughter, Joryn West, 7, started coughing and sneezing three years ago.
At first, her doctor prescribed an anti-allergy pill, but now Joryn uses over-the-counter medication.
Treating allergies can be simple, but if allergies are left untreated, that’s when the allergy march can begin, in which the allergies contribute to common childhood illnesses such as diarrhea, stomach aches, ear infections, eczema, upper respiratory ailments and, ultimately, asthma.
“All these things are related through the immune system,” Stratbucker says. “The immune system gets triggered, and children can develop one, two, three of these diseases.” Lydialyle Gibson