Seasonal Allergies in Children & How to Help Your Kid Cope

Health Professional

Seasonal allergies affect tens of thousands of children, just as they do adults. This post will provide a general description of seasonal allergies in children, as well as some tips for parents of kids with allergies to help you (and them) cope better. This is especially important this time of year, as seasonal allergy symptoms are becoming more frequent and bothersome.

Here are answers to some of the most common questions about allergies in kids.

What are Seasonal Allergies?

The term seasonal allergies refers to a sensitivity to certain allergens (mostly found outdoors) that are only present in the environment at specific times during the year. Most kids will suffer from spring allergies, summer allergies and/or fall allergies.

Allergic rhinitis, which simply means an allergic condition causing inflammation of the nasal passages, is the scientific term for seasonal allergies. This type of allergy is also sometimes called "hay fever," though that is a misnomer. Seasonal allergies are not caused by a sensitivity to hay, nor do they cause a fever.

The kind of allergens more commonly found indoors, such as pet dander, dust and some kinds of mold, can trigger allergic symptoms during all seasons. They are often thought of more as winter allergies since that is when kids tend to spend a lot more time indoors where these allergens are found.

What Allergens Do I Need to Be Concerned About During Each Season?** Spring allergens are primarily those associated with tree pollen.** When it comes to trees, less than 100 species are known to cause allergies. These are the most common:

  • Elm
  • Hickory
  • Olive
  • Pecan
  • Ash
  • Box elder
  • Cottonwood
  • Maple
  • Poplar
  • Willow
  • Cedar

Most tree pollen allergies strike during early spring, usually after March 15. Cedar allergies are more often associated with winter pollen allergies in warm climates like Texas because that is when the cedar tree is pollinating.

Summer allergies, at least during early and mid-summer, are caused by a sensitivity primarily to grass pollens. Like trees, not all grasses produce allergy-causing pollens. The main culprits are:

  • Bermuda
  • Johnson
  • Kentucky blue
  • Orchard
  • Sweet vernal
  • Timothy

Grasses begin emitting pollens in late spring and throughout the summer.

Fall allergens, which actually start rising in late summer, are primarily caused by weeds. Some of the most common weed allergens come from these varieties:

  • Cockleweed
  • Goosefoot
  • Nettle
  • Russian thistle (tumbleweed)
  • Sages & sagebrush
  • Sheep sorrel
  • Smotherweed

But, by far, the worst weed for pollen is ragweed, which begins pollinating in mid-August and continues until the first frost. A single ragweed plant can release millions of pollen grains into the air each year.

Another fall allergen is outdoor mold spores, which are commonly found in piles of fallen leaves and moist soil.

What Are the Symptoms of Seasonal Allergies in Children?

Seasonal allergy symptoms in kids are much the same as they are in adults, and can include:

  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Nasal congestion
  • Itchy nose, roof of the mouth, throat and/or eyes
  • Eye tearing, burning, excess mucus production

And, if your child also has asthma, which is quite common, you may also notice an increase in asthma symptoms, such as wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath.

In small children who cannot describe symptoms, some other common signs that allergies are interfering with health are:

  • The "allergic salute," where a child rubs the base of his nose up and down with a palm, due to itching and irritation of the nasal passages.
  • Allergic "shiners," which are dark circles under the eyes, commonly associated with lack of sleep in adults.

An infant might also be generally cranky, irritable and difficult to pacify in your usual manner.

How Can I Make My Child More Comfortable With Seasonal Allergies?

First and foremost, know that you don't have to go it alone According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology (or AAAI for short) in 2010, 10 percent of U.S. children aged 17 years and under had suffered from seasonal allergies in the past 12 months.

Because allergies in kids are so common, lots of research has been done to evaluate causes and treatments. That means there are a number of treatment options for you and your child.

1. Work closely with your physician. Family physicians and pediatricians are usually quite well-versed in the treatment of allergies since they are so common, but you might also want to consult with a child allergy specialist, such as a pediatric allergist or immunologist. Whichever type of health care professional you're seeing, it is both your right and your responsibility to be a proactive advocate for your child. Keep the lines of communication open!

2. Understand that treating allergies can be a bit of a trial-and-error process, particularly in children who can't always describe how well a therapy is working. There are many types of allergy medicines available that help to prevent and minimize allergy symptoms. My post, Choosing the Right Allergy Medicine, goes into more detail. Whichever medicine you and your child's doctor decide upon, it’s important that you closely follow the instructions for giving it to your child. Medicines are not effective unless they're taken as prescribed.

Treating kids' seasonal allergies may be more effective if you know exactly what they are sensitive to. Allergy testing can help with that. Dr. James Thompson has written an excellent article on this topic here.

3. Help your child avoid exposure to seasonal allergens as best you can. It's not realistic, especially with kids, to think that you can completely avoid exposure to pollens and other seasonal allergens. But any efforts you can make, can add greatly to your child's comfort and help prevent allergies from interfering with play and fun.

Know when the pollen counts are high and keep your child indoors as much as possible during those times. Keep your windows closed in your home and car during those times too. When your children do come in from outdoors, bathe or shower them, and put clothing in the laundry basket to be washed.

4. Track your child's symptoms. Keep a journal or diary of your kid's allergy symptoms. Note when you observe them, as well as what your child was doing before or when they started. Also, make notes as to how your child responds to any treatment. Keeping these notes and watching for patterns can help you work more effectively with your child's health care professionals.

In Summary

Seasonal allergies in children can be both bothersome and challenging. But there can also be relief for most with a diligent approach to avoiding allergens and by working closely with your child's health care team. Seasonal allergies do not have to interfere greatly with the normal "work" of being a child!

For more information, you might want to review this post: Understanding and Treating Pollen Allergy