Seasonal allergy family preparation checklist
According to the FDA, up to 40% of children suffer from seasonal allergies (allergic rhinitis). This common but abnormal reaction to relatively harmless substances such as pollen, dust, or mold can make life miserable not only for your kids, but also for the entire family.
If seasonal allergies plague your family, here are 10 things to keep in mind to help everyone in the house breathe easier.
1. Identify seasonal allergies
The key to putting a stop to seasonal allergies is to be proactive. Identifying your allergy triggers by getting a blood or skin test from an allergy specialist is the first step towards conquering them. Only then can you get an appropriate recommendation regarding medication or advice on what triggers to avoid and how.
Allergy specialists will perform skin or blood tests to identify your or your children’s specific triggers. With so many types of pollen, mold, and other irritants, it is important to know exactly what you are dealing with so you can take appropriate steps to avoid allergens or treat symptoms.
2. Monitor your family’s allergy triggers
The most common seasonal allergy triggers include tree pollen, grass pollen, and mold.
In winter, indoor allergies may become more of a problem because you are cooped up in your home. This is when allergens such as dust mites, pet dander, cockroach droppings, and other airborne irritants such as air fresheners and smoke from fireplaces may become more of a problem.
Many weather websites and apps now provide users with information about pollen counts in their areas. If you or your child has been tested and an allergy to pollen has been discovered, monitoring these conditions can help you decide when to stay inside to limit exposure.
If your child engages in outdoor activities at school, such as athletics, share their allergy test results with teachers and coaches. They may not be able to do strenuous physical activities outdoors during seasons when their pollen or mold causes asthma.
Here are the most common allergy triggers by season:
Spring Allergy Triggers
- Tree pollen
- Grass pollen
Summer Allergy Triggers
- Grass pollen
Fall Allergy Triggers
3. Recognize and remedy seasonal allergies in babies, kids, and toddlers
Babies are not typically affected by outdoor seasonal allergy triggers like grass and tree pollen. While most severe allergies do not tend to develop until after the age 3, parents have reported starting to see symptoms such as nasal congestion, watery eyes, sneezing, cough, ear pain, and stuffy noses due to both pollen and mold between 12 and 15 months. Very young babies can be bothered by indoor allergens such as mold, dust mites, pet dander, and cockroaches.
If allergies are coming from indoors, they could be caused by dust mites, pollen, pet dander, mold, cockroach droppings, or other airborne irritants, such as smoke from fireplaces and wood-burning stoves. Cleaning bedding and stuffed animals (or freezing the latter overnight to kill dust mites), removing carpeting from their rooms, and limiting their exposure to burning wood will help.
When toddlers and children have seasonal allergies, it is common for them to wipe their noses upward, breathe through their mouths, sneeze, rub their noses and eyes, cough, wheeze, and seem confused or cranky. You might also observe itchy, watery, or swollen eyes, and fatigue.
It is always safest to consult a doctor about a child’s symptoms so they can be treated effectively, especially if they are having breathing difficulties.
Since there can be a time delay between exposure to allergens and the onset of symptoms, it is important to keep track of when and where symptoms begin so you can give your child’s doctor an accurate picture. If allergy symptoms are worse in the morning, the problem could be in your child’s bedroom or due to high pollen counts in the morning if you leave windows open. If your toddler only experiences symptoms at certain times of year, your doctor can more accurately identify which pollen or mold they are allergic to. And if symptoms are constant, a specialist can help you identify what items in your home may be harboring allergens.
One common culprit parents do not often think about is stuffed animals that can not only harbor mold because of moisture, but track in pollen, dander, and dust mites. Buying washable plush toys or freezing them for at least 4 hours once a week may go a long way towards alleviating a child’s allergies.
4. Know when it is allergies vs. a cold, flu, or sinus infection
It is important to know why your child is experiencing symptoms of illness or allergic reaction so they can be treated properly. This is typically a job for a medical professional, but there are some signs that you might be dealing with something other than allergies when your child is suffering from a stuffy nose.
The most common sign that you are dealing with something other than allergies is a fever. That is most common in children and adults with the flu.
These are the symptoms that colds, flus, and allergies have in common:
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
If you or your child have a fever or aches and pains, chances are an allergic reaction is not to blame but rather one of the viruses that causes the cold or flu. If these symptoms are severe, it is more likely to be the flu than a cold.
Furthermore, if symptoms occur a few times a year without an environmental trigger, it is likely a cold since flus tend to occur only once a year. Meanwhile, allergies tend to occur seasonally or repeatedly with exposure to a trigger such as pets or pollen.
Seasonal allergies (rhinitis) can also be confused with a sinus infection (sinusitis), especially if you experience pain or pressure in your sinuses after being exposed to an allergen. But the two conditions are different. Seasonal allergies inflame nasal passages while sinusitis affects the entire sinus and is caused by bacteria, fungi, or viruses.
Discolored nasal discharge, pain under the eyes and/or on the bridge of the nose and cheekbones and around the jawline are often indicative of a sinus infection rather than an allergic reaction.
5. Be prepared to treat allergies when they strike
Once you know what triggers your or your family’s allergies, be prepared to treat them if they strike suddenly. Even the most vigilant allergy sufferers can be exposed to allergens in new environments, especially during travel.
It is important to speak to your doctor and your child’s pediatrician about allergy shots or medication. In some cases, medication may be recommended seasonally or even year-round in order to prevent allergies altogether.
Keeping antihistamines, nasal sprays, inhalers, and eye drops handy while traveling, visiting other people’s homes (who may have pets or invisible dust mite or mold issues), or engaging in outdoor activities can help keep parents and kids keep symptoms at a minimum when you unexpectedly encounter allergy triggers.
When seasonal allergy symptoms flare, it is also a good idea to increase water intake to add moisture to mucus membranes that are trying to rid the body of allergens. Staying hydrated can help thin and clear out some of the mucus that causes congestion, coughs, and sore throats.
6. Eliminate seasonal allergens in your home
The best way to deal with allergies is to prevent them in the first place. Once you have identified your (or your family’s) allergy triggers with medical testing, you can take the correct precautions to avoid them.
Here are some common ways to reduce the number of allergy triggers you’re exposed to:
- Keep track of pollen counts and adjust behavior based on this information. For example, reduce outdoor activities and keep home and car doors closed on high-pollen days.
- Vacuum your home using a closed-system vacuum cleaner with fully sealed filtration at least once a week.
- Shower and wash clothing after exposure to allergens so you can avoid both inhaling it all day and tracking it inside your home. Be sure to clean your entryways once a week, especially places where you store outerwear or shoes.
- Wipe down your pets if they spend time outdoors since they may track in pollen or mold spores on their paws and fur.
- Wash all linens once a week in warm water.
- Eliminate or deep clean carpets and rugs in your home. These easily trap microscopic allergens such as dander and dust mites.
- Invest in air purifiers with HEPA and carbon filters, especially in bedrooms.
- If you are allergic to seasonal pollens and molds, be sure to protect your eyes and nose while you’re outside with glasses and/or a mask.
- When dusting your home, wear a mask.
- Use a damp cloth to trap dust rather than stirring it up with a dry cloth or feather duster.
- Fit your air conditioning unit and furnace with high-efficiency HEPA filters and be sure to check on them at least once a season to see if they need to be replaced.
- Mind the moisture in your bathroom and basement, which can easily grow different types of mold. Tiles, shower curtains, and wallpaper all trap moisture and make it easier for mold to grow.
7. Watch out for holiday allergy triggers
While your family may look forward to the Winter holidays each year, there are many potential triggers that come with the holiday season.
Some of the most common holiday-related wintertime allergy triggers are:
- Christmas trees and wreaths which contain sap, pollen, and terpene
- Scented candles or sprays in both homes and stores
- Dusty holiday décor
- Allergens tracked in by guests during holiday gatherings
8. Explain allergies to your child
Children may be more likely to avoid allergy triggers if they understand how allergies work and why their body responds the way it does to pollen, mold, pets, etc.
While you do not need to explain the finer points of immunology to a child, giving them a general idea of how allergens are inhaled and where they lurk can help give them a sense of control over their body’s reactions to allergens.
Describing the most common symptoms – especially ones that may not be obvious to caregivers - such as a sore throat - can also help them recognize and communicate their symptoms as soon as they arise. Knowing just what they are experiencing can also help parents and doctors determine whether the a’re suffering from allergies or a cold or flu. For example, if itching is one of their symptoms, it’s more likely to be an allergic reaction.
Because seeing an allergy therapist is the most effective way to identify triggers and the most effective treatments, explaining allergy tests (and the fact that they do not hurt) may help them to be more receptive to doctor’s appointments.
And children who are allergic to pets, in particular, may benefit from understanding what goes on in their bodies when they come into contact with animal saliva and dander. While you do not want your child to be afraid of animals, giving him or her this information may help explain why they can not get that new kitten or puppy or why pets can not sleep in their beds.
9. Investigate allergy shots for your child
Allergen immunotherapy (including allergy shots) is safe and effective for most children. Your allergy specialist can help determine if these shots are an appropriate treatment for your child’s allergies.
Immunotherapy involves introducing gradually stronger doses of allergens into the system in order to desensitize the immune system to allergy triggers. This can help prevent allergy symptoms altogether and make activities such as outdoor athletics possible. They can also help children allergic to dander live happily with pets.
While there are dissolvable pills that can be placed under the tongue in lieu of shots (called sublingual immunotherapy), the FDA has only approved these for grass and ragweed allergies. While the first few pills will be administered by a doctor, if they are well tolerated, they can then be given at home.
Most children can tolerate immunotherapy as young as 5 years old, but the decision on when to begin will vary by child.
10. Know the downsides of natural remedies for seasonal allergies
Natural and non-medicinal allergy remedies are tempting to try when you are not eager to medicate every sniffle and sneeze or over-the-counter measures are not entirely effective. However it is crucial to remember that natural remedies and alternative therapies are not regulated and are often not backed up by science.
For example, there is no evidence that eating local honey can ameliorate allergy symptoms because the pollen that bees carry is not the same kind that humans are allergic to.
Even when there is scientific evidence that a plant extract is effective in treating allergies in a lab, that does not mean allergy sufferers have access to a safe and reliable source of it yet. The lack of regulation of alternative remedies means that there may be no active ingredients in a supplement you find on the drug store shelf. Sometimes, these “remedies” can even interact with other medications, so it is important to consult with an allergy specialist before trying any alternative remedy.
It is hard to watch a child suffer from allergies – or be fully present when you are suffering from allergies yourself. But with caution and the right tools, many allergies can be avoided and the symptoms reduced so they do not interfere significantly with your or your family’s quality of life.
https://www.aafa.org/types-of-allergies/ (and many of the links from the page)
https://www.cdc.gov/asthma/public_health.html (and the links from this page)
https://health.clevelandclinic.org/tag/allergies/ (and the links from this page)
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