Managing seasonal allergies in children takes housework and detective work

May 23, 2018 Providence Health Team

  • Allergens can be present year-round.
  • Although the bulk of seasonal allergies are made up of pollens from grasses, weeds, and trees, other non-seasonal risk factors such as foods, insects and pets can also produce allergies.
  • Through proper investigation, most allergies in children can be identified and treated.

Seasonal allergies present a host of challenges for both adults and children, and contrary to what you may think, they are not limited to just the wheezing and sneezing associated with springtime. Genesa R. Wagoner, MD, a board-certified pediatrician at Providence Medical Institute in San Pedro, CA, emphasizes that parents should not wait until spring to address potential allergy-like symptoms that their children may exhibit. “The majority of seasonal allergies do occur in the spring,” Dr. Wagoner says, “due to grasses, trees, flowers and other plants blooming; however, what may appear to be seasonal allergies can in fact occur anytime of the year.” For example, outdoor molds are more widespread in late summer and early autumn but can persist throughout the year. Household dust gathers regardless of the season. This year-round challenge may help explain why in the United States, allergies affect almost 30 percent of adults and 40 percent of children and could be getting worse every year.

Dr. Wagoner notes that many types of allergens — seasonal, non-seasonal, dietary and environmental — are commonly present around children. These can include:

Foods (which are non-seasonal and constitute their own category of allergens) such as milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, and wheat;

Insects that sting or bite, such as wasps, fire ants, bees, mosquitos, and household pests such as dust mites;

Indoor and outdoor mold spores that might be present in the home or at school or daycare centers;

Pet allergens (in the U.S., as many as three in 10 people can develop an allergic reaction to cats or dogs);

And of course pollen, which we associate with hay fever, that is spawned primarily from weeds, trees and grasses.

There is a genetic component to allergies as well. In other words, allergies have a tendency to run in the family, so if a parent has an allergy there is a greater chance that his or her child may have that same allergy. And if both parents have the same allergy, the risk to the child is increased.

One question that parents frequently have is whether they should have their children tested for allergies as a matter of course. Dr. Wagoner says, “Routine allergy testing for children is not necessary. Most mild allergies can be treated without testing at all.” A visit to the pediatrician can help determine what your child may be allergic to, and how to treat it, without formal allergy testing.

If you and your pediatrician or family doctor decide that your child’s symptoms — which commonly include sneezing, coughing, running nose  — could be from allergies, one of the first steps is to determine when these symptoms act up or are triggered. This can seem a bit like detective work, in that you are trying to recall and isolate when and where your child’s allergy symptoms are most present. For example, is it a couple of days a week? It is only at home? Is it more when outside? Once you and your child’s doctor have addressed these potential clues, the best course of treatment can be determined.

“After gathering information, you can usually get a pretty good idea of what the allergy is and begin determining next steps, such as which foods, substances and environments to avoid and whether medication could help,” says Dr. Wagoner. Formal allergy testing is reserved for patients that don’t get better with standard allergen avoidance and allergy treatments and/or for situations in which knowing the answer could help determine if a family needs to make a major change in the child’s environment (like if the child has an allergy to the family pet). Allergy testing is not necessary for most patients with mild allergies.

A variety of practical, everyday precautions around the house can be taken to help minimize reactions caused by allergies. Dr. Wagoner says, “Make sure household pets are bathed and groomed regularly. Replace the home AC/heating filter and HEPA vacuum filters regularly; use hypoallergenic bedding and pillowcases and launder them and other linens frequently; keep windows shut if your child is sensitive to airborne allergens; and be mindful of toys and kids’ items around the house that collect a lot of dust, like stuffed animals. If you take basic steps to limit exposure and work with your doctor to develop a game plan, allergies can be kept in the background without disrupting your child’s normal activities.”

Learn how to get a good night’s sleep with seasonal allergies. Download the Circle By Providence app for up-to-date, provider-approved answers to common questions about raising healthy kids.

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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