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The truth about springtime sniffles

Posted 3/1/2017 by KATHRYN RUDA WESSELL, DO
Pediatric Allergist, UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital
Assistant Professor, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine

Your child is sneezing and feeling downright yucky. Is it a cold or seasonal allergies? Knowing the difference can guide you to the right quick-relief steps, help prevent future symptoms, and even head off complications like ear infections, sinus infections and worsening asthma. One in 11 kids and teens has a pollen allergy, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Here’s how to spot spring allergies and help treat them.

The truth about springtime sniffles

Allergies vs. the common cold

“Kids can develop seasonal allergies at any time during childhood,” says UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s pediatric allergist Kathryn Ruda Wessell, DO. “Many spring allergies are triggered by pollen. In early spring, most comes from blooming trees. Later in the season, pollen from grasses can provoke symptoms, and in the late summer and early autumn varying weeds can trigger symptoms. Some allergens, such as pets and dust mites, can cause symptoms year-round.” Airborne pollen particles prompt immune cells in the nose and airways to overact and release chemicals such as histamine. This leads to classic allergy symptoms like:

  • Sneezing
  • Clear discharge from the nose
  • Red, itchy, watery eyes (sometimes with dark circles underneath)
  • Itchiness in tough-to-scratch places like the roof of the mouth or inside the nose or ears

“Recurrent colds can often be confused with developing environmental allergies. Colds, on the other hand, are caused by a host of viruses,” says Dr. Wessell. “Symptoms may include congestion, a runny nose, sore throat and a cough – but not itching. Itching is often the symptom that differentiates recurrent viruses from allergies. Your child may also have a headache, muscle aches, fatigue or a low fever with a cold. The typical cold lasts for two weeks or less.”

Does your child need a diagnosis?

If you suspect your child has a spring allergy but want to be certain, a pediatric allergy specialist can help by using allergy testing to diagnose your child and identify his or her triggers. That way, you can take steps to control or prevent your child’s symptoms with confidence. “This can be especially helpful for severe spring allergies that don’t respond to prescription or over-the-counter medicines, or lead to frequent health complications,” adds Dr. Wessell.

Strategies for allergy relief

The first step toward relief is reducing your child’s exposure to pollen. Keep track of the pollen count in your area. Keep doors and windows in your home and car closed on high-pollen days and run the air conditioner to filter the air (change the filters in units every month, too).

If symptoms persist, ask your child’s pediatrician about the best over-the-counter allergy medicine for your child. If over-the-counter medicine isn’t enough, research shows that weekly to monthly allergy shots are effective for kids. The shots can build up immunity to troublesome allergens.

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