Treating Seasonal Allergies in Children

Caucasian boy blowing nose in classroom

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 7% of children (roughly 6 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 children.

Causes

Allergies are caused by an abnormal immune response during which an otherwise harmless substance, such as dust or pollen, triggers the release of histamine into the bloodstream.

Histamine is the chemical responsible for such allergy symptoms as:

  • Sneezing
  • Nasal congestion
  • 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 of allergy symptoms. Before starting your child on an allergy medicine, even an over-the-counter one, consult your child's pediatrician.

Options include:

  • Decongestants, available in oral and topical formulations, which help clear nasal mucus and improve breathing
  • Oral antihistamines, such as Claritin (loratadine), Zyrtec (cetirizine), Allegra (fexofenadine)
  • Antihistamine eye drops, such as Zaditor (ketotifen fumarate)
  • Steroid nasal sprays, such Flonase and Nasacort, to open blocked passages and stop nasal drip
  • Steroid-free nasal sprays, such as the antihistamine Astepro (azelastine hydrochloride), to treat symptoms of seasonal allergies and allergic rhinitis

Treating children with allergy medications can be challenging. In some cases, a drug may work better in adults than children. In others, even a recommended dosage for children may cause side effects.

For example, oral decongestants can cause stimulation, leading to hyperactivity, anxiety, or insomnia. Topical decongestants can only be used for a short time; otherwise, they can cause a rebound effect (a stuffy nose that is more difficult to treat than the original allergy symptoms).

If you decide to use an allergy medication, choose one formulated for children and follow the prescribing information on the package insert. Be especially mindful of what ages a drug is approved for. You can also ask your pharmacist for advice.

Never overtreat a child by doubling up doses, using two different antihistamines at the same time, or increasing the frequency of dosing.

What You Can Do at Home

The first and best way to deal with a seasonal allergy is to prevent it. Minimize 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 allergens a child reacts 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.

Among the non-pharmaceutical options to seasonal allergies:

  • Gargle with salt water to relieve a sore throat.
  • Use a cold compress to help relieve nasal pressure or itchy eyes.
  • Use a HEPA or humidifier to reduce particles circulating in the air.
  • Use a neti pot (nasal irrigation).
  • Vacuum regularly. "Pet-friendly" vacuums are especially good for this.

When to See a Doctor

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. With that information, the doctor may prescribe allergy shots to desensitize the child to specific triggers.

Never ignore persistent or worsening symptoms, particularly if the child is straining for breath, grunting, or flaring nostrils. Hives and swelling of the face and tongue are other concerning signs. Seek immediate medical help for trouble breathing or any swelling of the face or tongue.

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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Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Allergies and hay fever. Updated March 1, 2021.

  2. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA approves a nasal antihistamine for nonprescription use. Published June 17, 2021.

  3. American Academy of Pediatrics. Allergy medicine for children. Updated November 21, 2015.

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