Treating Seasonal Allergies in Children

Dos and Don'ts Every Parent Should Know

Caucasian boy blowing nose in classroom
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According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over just eight percent of children (roughly six million) experience seasonal allergies.

While there are many over-the-counter (OTC) medications available to treat symptoms of allergic rhinitis (hay fever), there is no one-size-fits-all solution. This is especially true when it comes to younger or smaller children.

Causes

Allergies are caused by an abnormal immune response during which an otherwise harmless substance, such a dust or pollen, triggers the release of histamine into the bloodstream. Histamine is the chemical responsible for such allergy symptoms as:

  • Sneezing
  • Nasal congestion
  • A runny nose
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Mouth or throat itchiness
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest tightness

Seasonal allergies are those related to the increased output of pollen from trees, grasses, weeds, and other plants. Depending on the types of pollen the child is reactive to, the allergy season can run anywhere from early spring right through to late fall.

Treatment Options

Treatment of seasonal allergies involves either the suppression of histamine or the alleviation the allergy symptoms. Pharmaceutical options include:

  • Oral antihistamines such as Claritin (loratadine), Zyrtec (cetirizine), Allegra (fexofenadine), or Zaditor (ketotifen fumarate) eye drops
  • Steroid nasal sprays, such Flonase and Nasacort, to open blocked passages and stop nasal drip
  • Decongestants, available in oral, liquid, spray, and nasal drop formulations, that help clear nasal mucus and improve breathing

Treating children with allergy medications can be challenging. In some cases, the drug may work better in adults than children, while other medications may be too strong even at the recommended dosage.

While it is usually best to consult with a pediatrician before using these products, it may not always be possible. As such, there are several "dos" and "don'ts" a parent should follow whenever treating a child's allergy symptoms.

What You Should Do

The first and best way to deal with a seasonal allergy is to prevent it. You can do this by minimizing the exposure to pollens and molds by keeping the child indoors, closing windows, and recirculating the air in the car rather than opening the vents.

Experience will often tell a parent which types of allergen a child reacting to. In early spring, the prime suspects are tree pollens and molds. Those occurring from summer to fall are typically related to ragweed. You can also check pollen and mold levels either through your local weather service or the National Allergy Bureau website.

If you decide to use allergy medication, choose those formulated for children and follow the prescribing information on the package insert. You can also ask your pharmacist for advice, especially if the instructions are unclear.

Among the non-pharmaceutical options to seasonal allergies:

  • Use a HEPA or humidifier to reduce particles circulating in the air.
  • Use a neti pot (nasal irrigation) instead of a steroid nasal spray.
  • Instead of a decongestant, try feeding the child spicy foods to open nasal passages.
  • Use a cold compress to help relieve nasal pressure or itchy eyes.
  • Gargle with salt water to relieve a sore throat.
  • Vacuum regularly. "Pet-friendly" vacuums are especially good for this.

What You Should Not Do

When it comes to allergies in children, never ignore persistent or worsening symptoms, particularly if the child is straining for breath, grunting, or flaring nostrils. Rash, swelling, and fever are other danger signs. In any of these occurs, seek immediate medical help.

If an allergy is interfering with the child’s quality of life, you should set an appointment with your pediatrician. In some cases, you may be referred to an allergist who can perform tests to identify the specific allergens your child is reacting to. By doing so, the doctor may be able to prescribe allergy shots to desensitize the child to the specific triggers.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, never overtreat a child by doubling up doses, using two different antihistamines at the same time, or increasing the frequency of dosing.

If you are struggling to manage the symptoms in your child, do not hesitate to see a pediatrician. In some cases, there may be multiple or cross-reactive allergies affecting your child or other causes that may simply be mimicking the symptoms of allergy.

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View Article Sources
  • Church, D.; Church, M.; and Scadding, G. "Allergic rhinitis: impact, diagnosis, treatment, and management." Pharm J. 2016; 8(8). DOI: 10.1211/CP.2016.20201509.
  • National Center for Health Statistics: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Allergies and Hay Fever." Atlanta, Georgia; updated March 30, 2017.