If your child has a drippy nose and itchy eyes, there’s a good chance allergy season has kicked into high gear. Allergies aren’t just uncomfortable for kids; your child also may have trouble sleeping, have a mild headache or have difficulty concentrating in school. “Allergies can be miserable for kids,” says Maria Lania, MD, head of allergy and immunology at Cooper University Health Care. “But we have many different medications, both over-the-counter and prescription, to help your child feel better.”
Here’s how to manage your child’s spring allergies:
PAY CLOSE ATTENTION TO SYMPTOMS
Because there’s an overlap of symptoms between allergies and COVID, it can be tough to know which one your child actually has. And plenty of other viruses have been circulating this year, too. Allergies typically start with a runny nose and congestion, and your child may have itchy eyes, ears or nose (this itchiness is a telltale sign of allergies). There also may be sneezing but mostly, your child won’t feel too sick. If these symptoms always occur around the same time of year, that’s another clue it’s likely allergies, says Lania.
With COVID, kids typically have mild symptoms, but it’s still important that they don’t spread the virus to others who are more vulnerable, like grandma or the bus driver, says Lania. COVID in kids tends to start with a headache and scratchy throat, then progresses to a runny nose, maybe some achiness, maybe a fever or not feeling like doing much. If your child has been exposed to someone with COVID, or you’re at all concerned, call your pediatrician about testing.
KEEP WINDOWS CLOSED
It’s tempting to throw the windows open for some fresh air on the first warm days, but that just invites pollen indoors. “Spring allergies are primarily caused by tree pollens, which start from April to May or earlier, depending on the weather,” says Catherine Monteleone, MD, allergist and professor of medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. “By May and early summer, grasses are the culprits. Running your air conditioner, instead of opening the windows, helps filter the indoor air.” An air purifier with a HEPA filter may be beneficial, too.
TRY OVER-THE-COUNTER MEDICATIONS
It’s fine to try some of the non-sedating antihistamines such as Claritin, Zyrtec or Allegra to control symptoms such as itchy, watery eyes, runny nose and sneezing, says Monteleone. Nasal corticosteroid sprays, such as Flonase, can help decrease inflammation and congestion, though it can take up to two weeks before they start to offer relief. They must be used daily to be effective. Antihistamine eye drops relieve itchy eyes and don’t necessarily need to be used daily, just as needed.
START MEDICATIONS EARLY
Medications work better when you don’t let symptoms get out of control. If your child has a history of spring allergies, start medications sooner, rather than later. “We never know if it will be an early spring or not here in New Jersey, so we tell patients they should start medications by March 15,” says Lania. “We think it’s better to watch the calendar, not the weather because it’s too unpredictable.”
RINSE OUT THE POLLEN
If old enough, your child can squirt saline spray into his or her nose or eyes to rinse out pollen after being outdoors. It’s also fine to use a neti pot if your child can tolerate it, says Monteleone.
MAKE SURE KIDS SHOWER AFTER OUTDOOR TIME
It’s best to be outdoors in the afternoon, if possible, when pollen counts tend to be lower. Once indoors, your child should remove shoes, which can track pollen in, says Lania. Have your kids wipe off their faces right away. Then make sure they shower and wash hair before bedtime to remove pollen and prevent it from transferring to their pillow cases and bedding.
WASH SHEETS AND BLANKETS ONCE A WEEK
It’s better to use synthetic washable pillows, too, rather than down or feather, says Lania. Stuffed animals should be washed regularly as well. If worn, face masks should be washed or changed daily.
BATHE OR WIPE DOWN PETS
Pets can carry pollen indoors, so bathe them regularly, says Lania. At the very least, brush them down outside, or use a damp towel to remove the microscopic pollen that sticks to their coats.
KNOW WHEN TO CALL YOUR DOCTOR
If you’ve been treating your child at home for two weeks for allergies but he or she is not getting much relief, it’s time to call your pediatrician or make an appointment with an allergist. “Your child doesn’t have to suffer,” says Monteleone. “We can prescribe different medications to relieve discomfort and may suggest testing to identify what’s causing your child’s allergies.”