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Seasonal allergies can interfere with your kids’ sleep, decrease concentration and generally make them completely miserable. And it all starts earlier than you think, with tree pollen the main offender in the spring. “Pollen comes out as soon as the ground thaws, which is typically by the end of March and beginning of April in this area,” says allergist Satya Narisety, MD, clinical assistant professor at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. “The height of the season continues into May. But your child doesn’t have to suffer if you take a proactive approach.” Here’s what you can do to help your child feel better:

KNOW THE SIGNS

Do the sniffles mean your kid has allergies or could it be COVID? “There’s some overlap of symptoms between allergies and COVID, but there are a few identifying features,” says Narisety. While both conditions may involve a runny nose, COVID may also include a fever, cough, shortness of breath, body aches and loss of taste or smell. But nausea and diarrhea are other COVID signs which are not symptoms of allergies.

On the other hand, typical allergy symptoms include a runny or itchy nose or mouth, itchy skin, stuffy nose, puffy eyes and sometimes a cough or mild loss of taste or smell. But one of the telltale signs of allergies is itchy, watery eyes, which isn’t a COVID symptom. Another sign you’re dealing with allergies? If your child always gets the sniffles this time of year, says Narisety. If your child is wheezing or has a cough, these may be signs of allergic asthma and your kid should be seen by a doctor right away.

CONTROL THE ENVIRONMENT

There are a few things you can do to limit your child’s exposure to pollen. For starters, keep the windows closed and run the AC in your home and car. Wearing glasses or sunglasses also reduces the amount of pollen that gets into your child’s eyes. After coming indoors, have your child wash his or her face, says Narisety. Toss clothes in the laundry, and make sure kids shower and wash hair before bed so they’re not transferring pollen to their pillowcases to sleep in it all night. Pollen counts are higher in the mid-morning, early evening and on windy days, so keep kids inside during these times if possible (you can also check the daily count at pollen.com). If you have a dog, make sure kids wash their hands after playing with him or her. You can also wipe your dog down after bathroom breaks and bathe your pet regularly to control how much pollen is carried inside.

START NASAL SPRAYS BEFORE SYMPTOMS KICK IN

If your child’s doctor has approved them in the past, start corticosteroid sprays before pollen season starts because they can take up to two weeks to work for nasal congestion and itchy or runny noses. Look for over-the-counter (OTC) children’s products like Flonase (fluticasone). If your child complains about the spray burning, try a water-based formula like Rhinocort (budesonide).

ADD AN OTC ANTIHISTAMINE

Try adding OTC antihistamines, which come in liquid, chewable or pill forms if your child is having breakthrough symptoms such as sneezing and itchiness while using the spray. Look for children’s-strength medications such as Zyrtec (cetirizine), Allegra (fexofenadine) and Claritin (loratadine), which last 12 to 24 hours. “These second-generation antihistamines are longer-lasting and have fewer side effects than the older ones, such as Benadryl,” says Narisety.

TALK TO YOUR PEDIATRICIAN

Your pediatrician may prescribe meds if your child doesn’t feel better in a few weeks using OTC meds. Ask for a referral to an allergist to identify what kinds of allergies or health issues your child may have. “Sometimes it’s another condition called chronic rhinitis, or he or she may be allergic to indoor allergens,” says Narisety. Your child’s allergist may suggest immunotherapy shots, which gradually desensitize kids to allergens and may prevent other allergies and asthma from developing.

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