If seasonal allergies are a problem in your family, you’re not alone. Austin is included in the latest Allergy Capitals Report by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. The report uses data to rank the most problematic cities for allergies in the United States. Here is what you need to know about seasonal allergies and what to do to get them under control.
What causes seasonal allergies?
Seasonal allergies are caused by airborne pollen from grass, weeds, flowers and trees. Mold spores also can cause allergies. Some people have no problem when they breathe in pollens or mold spores; in other people, the body’s immune system reacts with an allergic response. An otherwise harmless substance that triggers an immune response is called an allergen. Symptoms of seasonal allergies include itchy and runny nose, sneezing, postnasal drip and congestion (stuffy nose).
What should I do if my child suffers from seasonal allergies?
There are three strategies for dealing with seasonal allergies: control exposure to allergens, give over-the-counter allergy medicine and see a pediatric allergist.
Strategy #1: Control exposure to allergens
Don’t overlook the simplest strategy of all — controlling exposure to allergens. Here are some tips to try:
- Keep tabs on allergens in your area. Many apps and local newspapers have an “allergy report” along with the weather report. The Austin American Statesman and the weather section in the KVUE app are two resources that track predominant pollen and mold in Austin and surrounding areas.
- Understand which allergens make your child sick. One tool is an allergy tracker app for your phone, such as the Allergycast app. You enter symptoms into the app. After a period of time, the app will predict the risk of getting sick based on the pollen forecast for your zip code. Another way is to log your child’s symptoms on a calendar and note predominant pollens and mold for that date. Look for patterns over time. Here’s one version of a symptom tracker: bit.ly/2MSAvTq.
- Avoid prolonged outdoor activities when allergy count is high. Focus on indoor activities instead.
- Try a higher-quality filter for your AC/furnace to see if it helps. Some are designed to filter out allergens, including household dust, smoke and pollen. Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter.
- Keep the windows in your home and car closed when the allergen count is high. Use the air conditioner instead of outside ventilation.
- After playing outside, have your child wash her hands and face to remove pollen.
- Have your child take a bath at bedtime instead of in the morning. This may help alleviate allergy symptoms at night and improve sleep.
- Limit access to the child’s bedroom during the day. Keep the door shut and move toys to another room. Keep pets who may have pollen on their fur out of the child’s bedroom. This will help prevent allergens from being carried into the room during the day.
- Wash sheets, blankets and pillowcases frequently. Use allergen covers on pillows and mattresses.
Strategy #2: Give over-the-counter allergy medicine
If your child is still bothered by allergy symptoms after you have tried controlling exposure to allergens, over-the-counter allergy medicines are an option. These include oral antihistamines, antihistamine eye drops and corticosteroid nasal sprays. Always check with your child’s pediatrician before giving any type of medicine.
Tailor the over-the-counter medicine to the most bothersome symptoms. If your child’s main symptom is itchy eyes, choose antihistamine eye drops. If the nose is stuffy, a corticosteroid nasal spray might help. If your child has multiple symptoms, try an antihistamine syrup or tablet.
Strategy #3: See a pediatric allergist
If you can’t get allergy symptoms under control, consider scheduling an appointment with a pediatric allergist to discuss immunotherapy, a treatment that helps reduce the body’s immune response to an allergen. Allergists conduct testing to identify specific allergens and develop a treatment plan.
Tips for Success With Over-the-Counter Allergy Medicines
- Do start an antihistamine at the first sign of symptoms if your child has a history of seasonal allergies. Give the medicine as directed every single day until the allergen is no longer present in the air at levels that trigger an allergic reaction.
- Don’t give antihistamines off and on and expect them to be effective. Antihistamines block histamine release. It takes several days for the medication to reach therapeutic levels in the blood stream. Start the antihistamine at the first sign of symptoms and consistently give as directed until allergy season is over.
- Don’t rely on an antihistamine to relieve a stuffy nose. If your child’s nose is congested, ask your pediatrician about using a nasal corticosteroid, such as Flonase or Nasonex. These products help stop inflammation in the nasal passages. Nasal corticosteroids take several days to work. Ideally, your child would start this type of medicine about two to four weeks before allergy season begins.
- Do read the labels carefully. Some antihistamines are labeled with a “D,” which means decongestant. Some common decongestants are phenylephrine or pseudoephedrine. These can cause rapid heart rate, nervousness and elevated blood pressure. Children younger than 6 years old shouldn’t take decongestants.
Brenda Schoolfield is a freelance medical writer based in Austin.