Fall in northern Illinois can be a glorious time. Soccer and football seasons gear up, apple orchards open for the season and pumpkin patches brim with fall fun. But for children who suffer from seasonal allergies, all of those outdoor activities can come at a pretty miserable price.
Kids generally start exhibiting sensitivity to environmental allergens around the ages of three or four. It takes a few seasons of exposure to prompt a reaction, and sometimes it takes longer. It is not unheard of for a 10-year-old to develop first-time allergy symptoms.
Ragweed is the most common fall allergen (followed by mold), and its season generally begins in mid-August. Parents should know what to look for in their children and what to do if they start seeing signs of allergies.
How Do I Know it’s Allergies?
Parents who experience seasonal allergies are more likely to have children with seasonal allergies. If one parent is allergic, the child has a 30 percent chance of developing allergies, and if both parents are affected, the chance jumps to 60 percent.
Typical allergy symptoms include a runny nose, scratchy throat, repeated throat clearing and red, watery eyes. Because these symptoms often mirror those of the common cold, parents sometimes struggle to tell the difference. If the symptoms continue beyond the standard length of a cold or get worse after the child has been outside, though, the child may be suffering from allergies.
Beyond the standard symptoms, allergies can cause more subtle concerns. For instance, the irritation can cause difficulty sleeping, which can then lead to trouble paying attention in school.
How Should I Treat Allergies?
We recommend that children, especially those with first-time allergy symptoms, see their pediatrician for a formal diagnosis. If the verdict is seasonal allergies, your pediatrician can discuss the pros and cons of the various allergy medications, including antihistamines, nasal steroids and leukotriene inhibitors. While some allergy medications are now over-the-counter, your pediatrician can help you tailor the correct regimen for your child and ensure you know the correct dosage to administer.
You also can discuss strategies to limit exposure and reaction to allergens with your child’s doctor. These include limiting outdoor time when pollen counts are especially high, rinsing off after outdoor play, not allowing clothes that have been outside to touch the child’s bed and keeping bedroom windows closed during allergy season.
If your child also has asthma, it is doubly important to properly treat seasonal allergies. Allergic reactions can cause asthma symptoms to flare up as well, and the combination can be dangerous.
Children who don’t have asthma can still develop recurrent ear and sinus infections as a result of their seasonal allergy symptoms. This makes allergy treatment more than a simple quality-of-life issue.
Is Allergy Testing Necessary?
For most seasonal-allergy sufferers, testing to determine the exact cause of the reaction may not be necessary. However, if the symptoms are particularly bad and unmanageable or if it is difficult to determine whether allergies truly are the problem, testing can be beneficial.
For example, if proper doses of medications are not helping, it is possible that the child is allergic to more than just ragweed or mold. Maybe, for example, he or she is reacting to the family pet and/or house dust in addition to the environmental irritants. If that is discovered to be the case, then further steps can be taken to address the problem.
Allergy testing takes two forms. The first is ImmunoCAP, which is a blood test. The other is the scratch test performed in an allergist’s office. Your pediatrician can help you determine which method is right for your child.
Fall and spring are wonderful times of year in our area with so much to do and see outdoors. Diagnosing and treating allergy symptoms can help our children fully enjoy these times of year.
Dr. Ghosh is the mother of two and has been a pediatrician in Chicago’s northern suburbs for 10 years. While she treats most pediatric issues, she is passionate about working with new parents and teenagers and addressing the topics of nutrition, family dynamics and asthma. In her spare time, she enjoys volunteering – especially at her kids’ schools – and developing her interest in amateur photography. She currently treats patients for PediaTrust/Lake Shore Pediatrics, a new private partnership of seven pediatric practices located in the north and northwest suburbs of Chicago.
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