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What parents need to know about seasonal allergies

Every year, in quite predictable fashion, pediatric offices are filled with children suffering from runny noses, nasal congestion, and cough. While some parents are seasoned pros and easily recognize these symptoms as seasonal allergies, others are much less experienced in recognizing these symptoms for what they are and wind up administering all manner of inappropriate (and ineffective) treatments before giving up and asking for help. Yes, the predominant symptom for seasonal allergies is a runny nose, but it’s important for parents to remember that not all runny noses are created equal. The only way to ensure your child gets relief is to have a clear understanding of what seasonal allergy symptoms are, what causes them, how to prevent them, and what to do if they show up.

Seasonal allergies, known in the medical community as seasonal allergic rhinitis, are allergy symptoms that occur at certain times of the year. Symptoms usually occur when trees, grasses, and weeds release pollen particles into the air to fertilize other plants.

Unfortunately for people who are prone to seasonal allergies, their immune systems view these particles (called allergens) as a threat to the body and release chemicals, including histamine, into the bloodstream to defend against them. It’s the release of these chemicals that causes allergy symptoms.

People can be allergic to a number of environmental triggers. Pollen, dust, and a “change in weather” are just the tip of the iceberg when considering what can trigger these symptoms. Allergy testing is helpful in identifying triggers.

When it comes to symptoms, parents often notice that their child develops “cold” symptoms at the same time every year. If that happens, seasonal allergies may be to blame. Allergy symptoms usually come on suddenly and last for as long as a person is exposed to the allergen. They can include sneezing, itchy nose and/or throat, nasal congestion, runny nose, and postnasal drip.

Quite often, these symptoms come in tandem with itchy, watery and red eyes associated with allergic conjunctivitis. If children have coughing, wheezing and/or shortness of breath, in addition to these symptoms, they may have allergies that trigger asthma.

Diagnosis of allergic rhinitis is made after a thorough history and physical exam is done by your child’s pediatrician. If you think your child may have seasonal allergies, it’s best to start there. Your child’s pediatrician can help with making the diagnosis and managing symptoms. They can also refer you to an allergy doctor (allergist) for allergy testing.

There are many ways to treat seasonal allergies. Perhaps the most important part is identifying and avoiding triggers. If certain seasons cause symptoms, it may be helpful to keep the windows closed, use air conditioning instead of fresh air when possible, and stay indoors when pollen counts are high. It’s also a good idea for kids with seasonal allergies to wash their hands or shower and change clothes after playing outside.

If reducing exposure isn’t possible, or doesn’t help, doctors may recommend medicines for allergy symptoms. These can include oral, nasal, and ocular antihistamines in addition to nasal steroid sprays. The combination of medications used to manage symptoms depend most often on the severity and frequency of your child’s symptoms. While inflamed sinuses that are filled with mucus may provide an ideal breeding ground for bacteria, if the conditions persist long enough, antibiotics are not a part of the routine management of seasonal allergic rhinitis.

If you are concerned or confused about what’s causing your child’s runny nose, go see your pediatrician. We’re here to help you raise happy and healthy kids!

• Dr. Tamarra Moss is a pediatrician committed to helping you raise happy and healthy kids. You can find her at Dr. Carlos Thomas & Pediatric Associates in New Providence, Lucayan Medical Center in Grand Bahama, or on Instagram@mykidsdoc242. 

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