For many kids and adults, seasonal allergies are the pits. They can be unpleasant and difficult to manage. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), seasonal allergies may affect up to 40 percent of children and 30 percent of adults.
Also known as allergic rhinitis or hay fever, seasonal allergy symptoms usually start when airborne pollen from trees, grass, flowers and weeds enters the eyes, nose and throat and sets off an allergic reaction.
Let’s break down what seasonal allergies are, what you can do to minimize triggers, and how to treat your child’s allergy symptoms.
What are seasonal allergies?
Seasonal allergies strike at different times of the year, when trees, grass, flowers and weeds release pollen into the air to fertilize plants, and mold spores take flight to do the same. Also known as allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, seasonal allergy symptoms occur when airborne spores and pollen enter the eyes, nose and throat and set off an allergic reaction.
Symptoms include a stuffy or runny nose, congestion, sneezing, itchy eyes and nose, sore throat, chronic cough, and dark circles under the eyes.
It’s important to keep in mind that allergic rhinitis is more than just a mild annoyance. Some of the consequences of seasonal allergies in children include:
- Fatigue and poor concentration in school due to lack of sleep
- An increase in ear and sinus infections
- Asthma exacerbations triggered by uncontrolled allergies
- Disturbed sleep
- Behavioral issues
How can you minimize exposure to seasonal allergy triggers?
In springtime, pollen blankets everything in its path, from cars to clothing. What can you do to minimize your child’s exposure to allergy triggers? Here are some steps you can take to make your child more comfortable during allergy season.
- Have your child wash their hands and face as soon as they come in from playing outside so they don’t rub pollen in their eyes and nose.
- If your child’s eyes are puffy and swollen from pollen, start by rinsing their eyes gently using tap water. Have your child take a shower to remove all of the pollen they’ve been exposed to.
- Check the forecast for pollen levels, and limit outdoor activities when pollen counts are at their highest.
- Dry clothes in the dryer, not by hanging them outside, where they’ll get covered in pollen dust.
- Have your child take their bath at bedtime, which may help wash off allergens and prevent nighttime allergy problems.
- Keep windows in your home and car closed, which can lower your child’s exposure to pollen. Use air conditioning to keep your home and vehicle cool, but make sure it’s on re-circulating mode, if possible, to keep outdoor air out.
If your child has asthma in addition to seasonal allergies, these preventative measures can help reduce exposure to pollen and prevent asthma symptoms from worsening.
How do you treat seasonal allergies?
After you’ve taken steps to limit your child’s exposure to allergy triggers, choose a treatment that addresses specific symptoms. For example, by alleviating itchy, blurry eyes, you can improve your child’s sleep and mood.
There are a number of prescription and over-the-counter medications that can help relieve seasonal allergy symptoms. Be sure to talk to your family pediatrician about the best option for your child.
Read labels carefully for the active ingredient. Do not give your child more than one oral antihistamine at a time unless under the direction of a healthcare provider. However, most antihistamine eye drops and nose sprays can be given together along with an oral antihistamine.
Itchy, swollen eyes
Oral medication will not work as effectively as topical eye drops. Avoid the use of any product that contains a vasoconstrictor (look on the label or ask your pharmacist) for more than two to three days to avoid rebound redness. Rebound redness is the recurrence of symptoms and can lead to eyes becoming dependent upon eye drops.
If your child wears contact lenses, make sure they can be worn while on eye drops to treat allergies. Place drops in your child’s eyes a few minutes before putting in contacts, and have them avoid wearing contacts when their eyes are red. Artificial tears can help soothe dry, itchy eyes as well.
Runny or congested nose
A simple, nasal saline spray will flush out allergens and relieve nasal congestion from allergies. Over-the-counter, steroid allergy nose sprays can be effective at eliminating symptoms. It takes about a week until your child will notice the benefits of this medicine. Even though this medicine is over the counter, check with your pediatrician if your child needs to use a steroid nasal spray for more than one allergy season of the year. Avoid the use of nasal decongestants for more than two to three days, because a rebound runny nose called rhinitis medicamentosa may occur.
Oral antihistamines vary by how long they last, how well they help itchiness, and their side effects. During an allergic reaction, antihistamines block one of the agents responsible for producing swelling and secretions in your child’s body, called histamine. Prescription antihistamines are not necessarily “stronger.” In fact, there are very few prescription antihistamines. The “best” choice is the one that alleviates your child’s symptoms. As a good first choice, if another family member has had success with one antihistamine, genetics suggest your child may respond as well to the same medicine.
- Older, “first generation” antihistamines that have been on the market for a long time can make kids sleepy and don’t last very long. Occasionally, kids become “hyper” and are unable to sleep after taking these types of medicines.
- Newer, “second generation” antihistamines cause less sleepiness in your child, last longer, and are dosed once per day.
Oral decongestants such as phenylephrine or pseudoephedrine can help decrease nasal stuffiness. However, their use is not recommended in children under the age of 6 years because of potential side effects such as rapid heart rate, increased blood pressure, and sleep disturbances.
Remember: Read labels carefully for the active ingredient
Whichever medication you choose, be sure to check the label for age and proper dosing and ask your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions. Your child’s CHOP provider will help tailor an allergy plan specific to your child's needs.
Subscribe to Health Tip of the Week e-newsletter
For more advice that will help you keep your child healthy, happy and safe, subscribe to our Health Tip of the Week e-newsletter.