Allergy season is back in full force, and with the month of May continues a challenging time of year for local allergy sufferers. While we tend to lump them together, there are actually three main outdoor allergy “seasons” in the Pacific Northwest caused by different allergens. Each season lasts several months and may occur at slightly different times each year depending on the weather.
The first season begins with the emergence of tree pollen in early spring, generally around February or March. Following this, grass season begins when grass pollen counts increase in late spring to early summer. Weed season occurs in late summer through early fall. There is overlap between the seasons, particularly during grass and weed seasons.
What are allergies?
Allergies occur when the body’s immune system reacts to generally harmless substances, such as pollen, as though they were harmful. This sets into motion a series of immunologic events intended to remove the pollen from the body—the all too familiar sneezing, itch, and congestion of allergy season is the result.
What are the main symptoms of allergy?
The hallmark symptom of allergy is the itch. This generally relates to an itchy nose, as well as an itchy throat and throat clearing. Itchy skin can also become a problem, with rashes and irritation. Your child’s eyes may become inflamed and the areas around the eyes can become swollen. Additional symptoms include sneezing and a runny, congested nose. All together, these allergy symptoms can create a difficult time of year for kids with allergies.
Helping you to help your child
The amount of pollen in the air is affected by weather conditions. Dry and breezy conditions, for example, contribute to high pollen counts. If possible, try to plan outdoor activities during calm weather, ideally after some rain has helped to clear the pollen from the air. Encourage your kids to keep their hands away from their face and eyes until they can be washed. Close doors and windows on high pollen count days and/or use a portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter in your child’s bedroom. Use the air conditioning if available in your house and car. And at the end of the day, have your child shower and put fresh clothes on so that they do not bring the pollen from outside into the house.
For quick relief, you can try over the counter (OTC) antihistamines such as Zyrtec (cetirizine), Allegra (fexofenadine), or Claritin (loratadine). Generic versions of these medications are available and are equally effective as their name brand counterparts. These medications are less sedating than first-generation antihistamines such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine) and are long acting which is convenient for busy kids and families.
For itchy or red eyes affected by allergies, there are newer OTC ocular allergy medications such as Pataday (olopatadine) or Zaditor (ketotifen) that relieve redness, swelling, and ocular itching. Another effective class of allergy medication for kids are nasal corticosteroids such as Flonase (fluticasone) or Nasacort (triamcinolone). These are highly effective and certain ones are FDA approved for use down to age two. Remember it will take a few days (usually 3-5 days) for this class of medication to begin working.
And don’t forget about nasal saline rinses which can provide immediate relief from nasal congestion. Although admittedly there are easier treatments to do with your toddler than rinsing their nose with saline, this treatment is often the most effective way to relieve nasal congestion, removing mucus and entrapped allergens that create symptoms.
If your child continues to have allergy symptoms despite the above measures, it may be time to consult with their primary care provider who can provide additional medication suggestions. They may also suggest your child consult with one of our pediatric allergists for possible allergy testing. Testing can help identify allergy triggers and guide allergen avoidance and treatment.
For some kids, allergen immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots, can be a good option. This treatment involves regular injections containing small amounts of the substances that trigger your child’s allergy symptoms. Over time these injections reduce the immune system’s over-reaction that causes allergy symptoms. For some allergies, treatment can be administered as tablets under the tongue. This is known as sublingual immunotherapy.
No child needs to suffer with seasonal allergy symptoms
Thanks to advancements in our understanding of allergy and the availability of effective therapies, our ability to prevent and treat allergy symptoms has improved greatly over the last several years. If you have any questions about how you can help your child with seasonal allergies, please speak with your primary care provider or contact us to discuss possible options.