When it comes to the “sneeziest and wheeziest” cities, the Windy City earns a dubious honor: it is the sixth worst city for allergies, according to a study by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Many adults who suffer from seasonal allergies know the symptoms: sneezing, runny nose, watery, red eyes. But when it comes to kids, it’s often hard to decipher the symptoms. Is it a cold? Is it allergies?
According to Dr. Brian Rotskoff of the Clarity Allergy Center, seasonal allergies cause a constellation of symptoms in kids, just like in adults, that mimic cold symptoms.
Timing and duration matter, he says.
The symptoms tend to be mild at the onset of the allergy season and get worse as the season progresses. And paying attention to the time of year can be key to identifying allergies in your child.
According to Dr. Amishi Murthy from Illinois Allergy and Asthma Specialists, allergy season is typically spring and fall, but can really be year-round.
“Tree, grass and mold pollens tend to be more prevalent in the spring, and ragweed, mold and dust mites tend to be more prevalent in the fall,” says Murthy.
Typically kids develop seasonal allergies between ages 4-6.
“Children’s allergies can either improve or worsen over time,” Murthy says. “If a child seems to have other allergic disorders, such as asthma, food allergies or eczema, the seasonal allergies may be worse.”
Typically, the first step for parents with children suspected of having mild seasonal allergies would be to try one of the many over-the-counter allergy medications.
“Non-sedating antihistamines such as Claritin, Zyrtec or Allegra; nasal steroid sprays such as Flonase, Rhinocort and Nasacort; and allergy eye drops such as Zaditor are good places to start,” Rotskoff says.
He recommends beginning allergy medications two to three weeks prior to the start of the allergy season.“Parents should seek the advice of an allergy specialist if their child has a poor response to over-the-counter allergy medications or if the allergy symptoms are interfering with sleep, school or daily functioning,” he says.
A specialist can prick test kids on a variety of environmental allergens, usually done during the initial visit, which takes about 20 minutes with minimal pain.
“The anticipation of the testing is usually the scariest part,” he says.
Steps to take at home
In addition to using medications, parents can help reduce the symptoms by taking some simple steps at home.
“Parents should keep the windows shut, both at home and in the car during allergy season,” Murthy says. “Also give your child nightly showers, instead of baths, and change their clothes after being outside.”
Clean your house vents and stay inside during the afternoon when pollen counts tend to be highest.
“For dust mite allergen sufferers, dust mite encasings for the mattress and pillow, as well as minimizing carpet, reduce the amount of allergens,” Murthy says. “Keeping animals out of the bedroom is helpful as well.”
According to Rotskoff, about 5 percent of children will have allergies by age 4 and almost 15 percent will have allergies by age 8.
“The number of people with allergies gradually increases and reaches a peak incidence by early adulthood, so in some cases, parents should look into allergy shots for children if symptoms persist or interfere with daily life.”
Getting a shot?
Allergen immunotherapy, known as “allergy shots,” is a clinically proven treatment that can reduce or eliminate allergy symptoms, as well as reduce symptoms of asthma.
According to Dr. Amishi Murthy, allergy shots are effective and can prevent symptoms for up to 15-20 years once they are discontinued. Shots can start at age 5.
Parents might want to consider allergy shots if medications fail to control symptoms, if there are several allergies or if kids have allergic asthma or eczema exacerbated by environmental allergies. “However, it is a time commitment, often requiring weekly shots for a year, then monthly injections for 3-5 years to achieve optimal control,” he says, adding monitoring is necessary to avoid fatal reactions.
“Allergy shots improve quality of life for allergy sufferers, and often, patients are able to stop or decrease the amount of medications they take on a regular basis.”