4 “must dos” for kids with seasonal allergies

Claire McCarthy, MD

Senior Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

Follow me at @drClaire

It’s always wonderful when winter ends and spring finally appears…unless you have hay fever.

Hay fever, or seasonal allergies, is very common — and can be really uncomfortable. While it’s not always easy to tell a cold from allergies, it’s more likely to be allergies if there’s no fever, if eyes are itchy, if there’s lots of sneezing…and if it lasts longer than a few days.

The good news is that there are some simple things that you can do to make your child — and anyone else in the house that has hay fever — feel better.

  1. Close the windows. After a long winter it’s tempting to open them, but don’t — because that lovely fresh air brings pollen in with it. If you have an air conditioner, run it.
  2. Wash up and change when you get home. Speaking of bringing pollen in, you also do a good job of that when you come inside. The allergy sufferer should definitely change clothes and wash his hands and face when he comes in, but it’s not a bad idea for everyone to do the same, as you all could be pollen-carriers. Try to keep your house as pollen-free as possible. The room where this is particularly important is the bedroom, as that’s where your child spends the most time. If possible, try to keep your child out of his bedroom during the day (move the fun toys somewhere else) and have him bathe before bed.
  3. Be thoughtful about outside time. As a pediatrician, I absolutely want my patients to be outside; I want them to be active, and to get the sunshine that helps their bodies make vitamin D. But if you have an allergy sufferer, you need to think before you send your child outside. Dry and windy days are the worst, and places with lots of plantings are tough. Many weather sites and apps have local pollen counts; check them as you make your outdoor plans. But since you can’t keep your child in a bubble until allergy season is over, you may need to use medication. When you do…
  4. Use medication the right way — and talk to your doctor if it’s not working. When it comes to taking a medication to relieve symptoms, like the itchy eyes or sneezing of allergies, we tend to think that we should take it when we have the symptoms, and not take it when we don’t. But it turns out that allergy medications work best when you take them consistently — and can take a while to kick in. So while it’s understandable that you would want to hold off on medications until things get bad, and skip them on good days, your child will actually do better if you get them started at the first sniffle — and continue until allergy season is over (check with your doctor as to when you should stop).The medications we most commonly use for allergies include antihistamines taken by mouth, nasal sprays to help stuffiness and sneezing, and eye drops to help itchy eyes. These days, most of these medications are available without a prescription, so it may not occur to families to call their doctor when allergy season hits; they just head to the pharmacy. If what you buy is working, great. But if not, give your doctor a call — because sometimes changing to a different medication or dose, or using it a bit differently, can make all the difference. Your doctor can also be sure that there isn’t something else besides allergies going on.

If you follow the above suggestions, chances are your allergy-sufferer will feel better — and when kids feel better, parents do too. Enjoy the spring!

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