28 Jul Grasses and Pollens and Trees, Oh My!
Summer is in full swing, so grasses are green, days are long and hot, and in North Texas, allergy season is in full bloom. Since the DFW area has a fairly mild, short winter, we are known for having a lot of allergy-symptom sufferers, not just seasonal but many year-round. But there are a lot of free, non-medical ways to help treat your child’s symptoms when they start, especially in young children. There are many types of allergies, including food allergies, allergies to dyes, and other environmental allergies. Today I’ll be talking about seasonal allergies to pollens.
What Are Allergies, Anyway?
“Allergies” are the default answer when your child has a cold that never goes away (or the cold that keeps coming back), and many times diagnosing true allergies is a challenge. Distinguishing allergy symptoms from an illness such as a cold can sometimes be difficult, even for a physician, and so understanding what allergies are and when to suspect them can help parents to know when to seek medical attention. Allergies are usually a reaction by your immune system to a substance that is not truly harmful. So when a microscopic pollen particle enters your nasal passages, your immune system starts to fight it off as if it was a virus or bacteria by making mucus, initiating a sneeze, and trying to “rid” the body of the dangerous pollen. As different people may be allergic to different pollens, people’s symptoms occur at different times of the year. If a child’s symptoms are in the nose, we often call it “allergic rhinitis.” Some children have more symptoms in the eyes or even manifested mildly as chronic congestion or cough. Occasionally some children don’t have a true immune system response to pollens, but just irritation of the nasal passages by non-specific triggers such as smoke, dust, and pollen. Even this “non-allergic” rhinitis starts with some of the same treatment as allergic rhinitis.
All in the Family
There are many different types of allergies, and some are related to others. Often times people will talk about allergies, asthma, and eczema together as they are related condition called “atopic” conditions. Often times, a person who suffers from one of these conditions suffers from another. As these conditions tend to run in families, it is not unusual to have family members with one or more of these conditions. If a parent has one of these atopic conditions, their children can have up to a 25% chance of having it as well! If both parents suffer from allergies, asthma, or eczema, the chances a child will develop any of these symptoms is even higher. Environmental allergies, sometimes called “hay fever,” can be seasonal or yearlong. The symptoms can often mimic a cold, and sometimes can fool even the health professional. Symptoms such as runny nose, itchy nose, nasal stuffiness, sneezing, watery eyes, and itchy eyes are hallmarks of hay fever. These symptoms can be seasonal, or they can be year-round. Symptoms can vary depending on the offending trigger. For example, grass pollens are a major culprit in the summer months, whereas weeds tend to take hold in autumn as the weather starts to cool. Most of the offending pollens are found in the wild, so changing your lawn type or being extra aggressive with weed control in the backyard is unlikely to change your symptoms.
Alternatives to Medication
Many people don’t like to start their young children on allergy medications. If your child is diagnosed with allergies, there are a lot of simple techniques that allergy sufferers can learn to help their symptoms. First, watch the pollen counts. You don’t have to know what pollen or what tree you are allergic specifically to in order to change your symptoms. If you know every June your eyes get watery, find out when the pollen counts in your area are high, then think about your behaviors and how it may affect your symptoms. The pollens that are outside easily travel inside and make our indoors intolerable for allergy sufferers as well. Try to limit your child’s outdoor activities if your symptoms are bad. It is not always practical, but perhaps instead of going to the park, your child can do an indoor tumbling class. Shutting the doors and using the air conditioner usually occurs anyway with the Texas heat in the summer, but other times of the year, it’s nice to feel the cool breeze through the window at night. Consider keeping those windows closed year-round, changing your air filter, and using a HEPA air filter if your child’s symptoms are flaring. Even if you keep your windows closed, pollens can travel into your home in other ways. Consider bathing your pets regularly and showering your children after they have been outdoors playing. Even just washing their hands and faces after coming indoors is a simple, fast ritual that can impact their symptoms.
A Trip to the Doctor
Seeing your doctor to discuss allergy medicines for your child may seem like a last resort, but children tend to not complain of their symptoms as adults do. Seasonal allergy symptoms can impact a child’s sleep patterns, breathing patterns, and their overall quality of life. There are many safe medications, including oral liquids, eye drops, and nose sprays that can make a child healthier and happier if they suffer from allergies. If you are at high risk for serious allergic reactions or suffer from food allergies, your pediatrician may refer you to a specialist such as an allergist or immunologist to do testing for specific allergens that can affect your child. Though allergy testing is common, usually your doctor can talk about your child’s symptoms and start with simple treatment to keep your child comfortable.
For more information on the web, visit healthychildren.org or aap.org. If you have questions or would like to discuss any concerns you have regarding allergies, you can schedule an appointment with me, Dr. Kathryn Mandal, by calling 817-617-8600 or scheduling online at continuumtx.com.