Spring is the time of year normally associated with seasonal allergies. As the trees start to bloom and the pollen is released into the atmosphere, allergy sufferers – many of whom are children – begin to experience an onset of irritating symptoms. Those with allergies have an immune system that overreacts to a usually harmless substance in the environment, called an allergen. Allergies are a very common problem, affecting at least two of every ten Americans. Seasonal allergies can start at almost any time, but usually develop by 10 years of age, and reach a peak level in the early twenties, with symptoms often disappearing later in adulthood.
If a child develops cold-like symptoms during the same time every year, seasonal allergies might be to blame. “An allergy evaluation should be considered to identify possible allergic triggers when a child has persistent/recurrent symptoms such as itchy eyes, sneezing, congestion or asthma,” explained Tiffany Owens, M.D., Licking Memorial Allergy/Immunology Specialist. “It also would be prudent to make an appointment when over-the-counter allergy medications do not seem to be working effectively, or to consider subcutaneous allergen immunotherapy (allergy shots) or sublingual allergy tablets (currently only FDA-approved for grass and ragweed allergy),” she continued. An appointment can be scheduled any time throughout the year. For seasonal allergies, it’s best to make the appointment before the child is having symptoms. “It is more efficient to prevent the allergic response than to try to treat it after the allergies are in full force,” Dr. Owens noted.
The most common seasonal allergy trigger is pollen – tiny grains released into the air by trees, grasses and weeds for the purpose of fertilizing other plants. Locally, tree pollen can be an issue in the early spring, grass pollen may trigger a reaction in the late spring and summer, and weed pollen is present from mid-August until the first hard freeze in the late fall.
Pollen can travel for miles, spreading a path of misery for allergy sufferers along the way. The pollen count measures the amount of airborne allergens in grains per cubic meter. The higher the pollen count, the greater the likelihood of severe allergic reactions. The daily pollen count in a given area can be found through a local weather forecast or by visiting the NAB: Pollen & Mold Counts page on the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology’s website.
A child’s outdoor allergy discomfort may be reduced by:
• Tracking pollen counts – Some weather stations and websites report the levels of airborne pollen in specific areas. Levels are often higher in the mornings and on warm, windy, dry days. If pollen level is high, children should remain indoors, when possible.
• Use an air conditioner to cool the home or vehicle instead of opening the windows.
• Clean home air filters often. Also, clean bookshelves, vents, and other places where pollen can collect.
• To reduce pollen after going outside, wash hair and change clothes.
• In the fall, children should refrain from playing in dead leaves, which often harbor mold.
• Use a clothes dryer instead of hanging laundry outside.
In order to better cope with seasonal allergies, the goal is to reduce or eliminate exposure to allergens. That means that parents must educate their children early and often, not only about the allergy itself, but also about the possible reactions if they come into contact with the allergen. There is no permanent cure for allergies, but it is possible to relieve symptoms with medications or to decrease allergy reactivity with allergy shots.
“First, I always recommend careful preventative healthcare – eat a variety of nutritious foods, drink water, exercise consistently, brush teeth and floss daily, and get recommended vaccinations,” explained Dr. Owens. “Next, avoid triggers: for instance, if pets cause symptoms, consider re-homing them rather than living with something to which you are allergic or if dust mites are a problem, use allergy-certified dust mite covers on pillows and mattresses,” she continued. Simple remedies such as a sinus rinse can be very helpful as well. If symptoms are still present, Dr. Owens also recommends trying a daily antihistamine (over six months of age) and/or a nasal steroid (two years of age or older) to decrease histamine response and decrease inflammation in the nasal passages. Eye drops also are helpful to relieve itchy, watery eyes. If these avoidance measures or over-the-counter treatments are not effective, contact an allergy/immunology specialist for further evaluation and treatment. A referral from a primary care physician may be necessary.
Dr. Owens’ practice, Licking Memorial Allergy/Immunology, is located at 14 Westgate Drive in Newark. Please call (740) 348-7510 for an appointment for an allergy or asthma evaluation.