It’s that time of year! Things are in bloom in the beautiful outdoors, but this also means pollen and allergens are everywhere. For those who suffer from outdoor allergies, this can mean misery with any combination of symptoms.
If you or your child suffers from seasonal allergies, you’re probably all too familiar with their symptoms. Common signs of allergies include:
- Itchy, watery eyes
- Runny, itchy and/or stuffy nose
- Itchy throat
- Sensation of mucus flowing down your throat (called “post-nasal drip”)
- Coughing, especially if in association with any of the previously mentioned symptoms
What Causes These Symptoms?
For those with seasonal allergies, the body’s immune system is overly sensitive to particular things in the environment, known as allergens. Allergens include things like pollens (grass, trees, other plants) and mold spores. They can cause many different chemicals to be released throughout the body, with the main offender being histamine. Many of the symptoms allergy sufferers face stem from this histamine release. It makes sense that blocking the effects of histamine via an antihistamine is key to treating allergies.
Who Can Develop Seasonal Allergies?
Typically, you have to have lived long enough to be exposed to at least two seasons of outdoor allergens before you can develop seasonal allergies. This means that seasonal allergies are unlikely to develop in children under the age of two. It may be possible for kids younger than two years old to develop allergies to things in the house (such as pet dander or dust mites).
Testing for Allergies
Testing for outdoor allergies, while possible, is not always helpful or needed for every person with seasonal allergies. If symptoms match with seasonal allergies, simply starting on an appropriate allergy medication regimen can help identify whether it truly is an allergy issue. In select cases, such as those with severe allergies that are responding poorly to allergy medication, it may be helpful to see an allergist for testing. Talk to your doctor to see what would be best for your child.
Preventing Allergy Symptoms
If you know that particular times of the year (such as spring or fall) are when your child’s allergies seem to flare up the most, it may be helpful to start on an allergy medication a few weeks before that season arrives. Additionally, staying on an allergy medication every day during the season(s) can help kids prevent significant flares. You can also do your part in keeping outdoor pollens out of the house by using HEPA filters, changing filters routinely, and regularly vacuuming carpeted areas.
Antihistamines and Treatment
There are several different medications to treat allergies, and many people typically need a combination, depending on the severity of their symptoms.
For mild symptoms that aren’t too bothersome, a simple antihistamine by mouth may be enough. These include the second-generation antihistamines that don’t typically make people sleepy and will last in the body all day long (e.g. Zyrtec, Claritin, Allegra, Xyzal). Benadryl and a few of its relatives in the first-generation antihistamine class (e.g. hydroxyzine, doxylamine, chlorphenirimine) also work, but are accompanied by many side effects, including sleepiness. They also have to be given more frequently (every four to six hours).
If the majority of allergy symptoms a patient suffers involve the nose, then a nasal steroid spray works well. These include over-the-counter Flonase, Nasocort, Rhinocort, and others.
For those suffering significantly more eye symptoms (very itchy, red, watery eyes) that don’t fully improve with an oral antihistamine alone, it is helpful to add antihistamine eye drops. These include many great over-the-counter products that contain the antihistamine called ketotifen, such as Alaway and Zatidor.
If you have any questions about these medications and/or dosing, talk with your doctor, and we would be glad to discuss the best regimen for your child!
Shots are available through allergists (and sometimes ENT doctors) to help the body slowly stop making as big a fuss over the allergens it is coming in contact with. The goal is to eventually come off of all allergy medications and to not have to worry about significant allergy symptoms. This treatment involves weekly or monthly shots over several years. Ask your doctor for additional details if you want to learn more.
With a little guidance from your providers at Northside Pediatrics, we can help keep your child’s allergy symptoms at bay!