The kids are back at school. Temperatures will soon cool off and leaves will begin turning glorious colors. It's fall! This is the time of year we begin to think of Halloween pumpkins and Thanksgiving turkeys. Unfortunately, fall is also a time when seasonal allergies may begin to act up. Weed pollen, particularly ragweed pollen, is a major culprit during these months. Mold spores are also often at their highest levels. If you have a child with seasonal allergies, get ready for itchy eyes, noses, ears and mouths.
"My 4-year-old experiences allergies, mainly in the fall," says Jenna Krumlauf of Pontiac, Mich. "I had them horribly as a child and ended up getting allergy shots for eight years, so I'm afraid it's my fault." Heredity is indeed a key factor in the development of allergies. If you or your spouse have seasonal allergies, chances are good that your children will, too.
Amy Knox, mother of two from Tennessee, can attest to this. Both she and her husband, as well as their two children, suffer from allergies. "My oldest daughter has problems with her eyes," she says. "They get red, inflamed and itchy. My 18-month-old gets congested." Knox has found that there is a definite pattern in when these symptoms occur, typically around October and April or May.
When Krumlauf's 4-year-old's allergies are acting up, he sneezes, has a runny nose and gets dark circles around his eyes. "He also snorts obnoxiously," she says. "He tells me he snorts because it feels like he has something in his nose, but I know it is because his nostrils are swollen. I get the same feeling sometimes." Krumlauf also has a niece whose "drainage gets her stomach so upset, she often throws up" during this time of year.
Allergy symptoms, even in young children, may range from mild to severe. The American Academy of Pediatrics lists some common symptoms that may indicate your child has an allergy:
- Recurrent red, itchy, dry, sometimes scaly rashes in the creases of the skin, wrist and ankles.
- Repeated or chronic cold-like symptoms that last more than a week or two, or develop at about the same time every year. These could include a runny nose, nasal stuffiness, sneezing and throat clearing.
- Nose rubbing, sniffling, snorting, sneezing and itchy, runny eyes.
- Itching or tingling sensations in the mouth and throat. Itchiness is not usually a complaint with a cold, but it is the hallmark of an allergy problem.
- Coughing, wheezing, difficulty breathing and other respiratory symptoms. Coughing may be an isolated symptom; increases at night or with exercise are suspicious for asthma.
Unfortunately, many kids are allergic to pollen and mold, which can be found in abundance outside during this time of year. It is impossible to avoid it all together. To limit pollen exposure, try running the air-conditioning inside your home and in the car instead of having windows open. This will help prevent pollen from coming indoors. Most kids love to play outside, but for those who suffer seasonal allergies it is best to limit outdoor play at peak pollen times – midday for ragweed in the fall. Big piles of leaves are fun to jump and play in this time of year, but they also may contain molds. Avoid decaying leaves if your child has seasonal allergies.
When to See a Doctor
Kristie Buckley of Hart, Mich., has a 3-year-old son who was recently diagnosed with seasonal allergies. "We first noticed his symptoms when he was just shy of 2 years old," she says. "He started with night coughing, and I worried he might have asthma, but then he started to get a runny nose. I took him to the doctor." Buckley's son was placed on medication, which was successful in managing the more severe symptoms.
Dr. Mitchell R. Lester is an allergist and immunologist with Fairfield County Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Associates in Connecticut and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Allergy and Immunology. He explains that families all have differing thresholds for tolerance of symptoms. "Certainly, if the symptoms interfere with quality of life – trouble getting to or falling asleep, mouth breathing, chronic cough, difficulty chewing with the mouth closed or even complaints of it bothering him," see a doctor, Dr. Lester says. He notes that chronic or recurrent ear or sinus infections, chronic and recurrent coughs or wheeze suggestive of asthma should always be evaluated. Your child's treatment will often start with your pediatrician, who will refer you to a pediatric allergist if additional evaluation and treatment is needed.
Dr. Lester reports that there are a multitude of treatment options depending on the symptoms. "There are as-needed symptom reliever medications such as antihistamines, decongestants and nasal saline rinses," he says. Antihistamines typically reduce runny noses and sneezing, as well as watery, itchy eyes and nose. Decongestants and nasal saline help with stuffy noses. Dr. Lester shares that there are also "preventive, 'controller' medications, the gold standard of which are the low-dose nasal steroid sprays," he says. "Patients with frequent need for controller medications or complication of allergy such as frequent ear or sinus infection, or asthma, should usually be on a controller medication."
"Patients who have seen an allergist can often have their specific triggers identified," Dr. Lester says. "Attempts at allergen avoidance are essential. Allergy testing is a painless and benign procedure that can help identify potential triggers. Then avoidance can be individualized rather than the shot-gun approach of not knowing and trying to do it all." Dr. Lester also adds that in the majority of cases, allergy skin testing is a better test than blood tests.
Krumlauf, the mother whose 4-year-old son suffers from seasonal allergies, finds that in addition to medication which "has been a savior," sometimes "a nice cool bath after playing outside" is just the ticket!