Monday, April 4, 2011

Aaahh-choo! Spring is here!

As I listen to my kids happily playing basketball in the driveway, digging dirt in the front yard (my daughter is planting an orange tree apparently), and throwing sand anywhere but inside the sand table on the deck, I’m sitting in the kitchen enjoying the sunshine and cool breeze that wafts through my backdoor.  All the windows are open, and I can feel the stuffiness of the house being gently blown outdoors.  I inhale and take a deep breath of the wonderful fresh spring air… and then, I sneeze.

And then I sneeze again.  And again. 

Sniff... sniff...  sniff... (clear throat)… (blink-blink)… I love spring... really… I do… (cough)… but boy, do I suffer from allergies!

My kids do, too.  At least three of them have seasonal allergies.  I’m waiting to see if the youngest one is going to also.  Kids generally do not develop allergies to the environment (pollen, mold, etc) until they are around three years old or older.  The immune system is not usually ready to start recognizing that allergens, such as pollen, are something to be allergic to until then.  It is possible for younger children to have seasonal allergies, but it is less common.  Younger children tend to have food-related allergies if they have any.

If there is a strong family history of allergies, asthma or eczema, or if your child has asthma/wheezing or eczema, then the chances of your child having seasonal or environmental allergies are higher.

Testing for allergies can be performed by an allergist through skin testing.  Your pediatrician may be able to do blood testing for allergies called RAST testing.  While there are differing opinions, it is generally thought that skin testing is more accurate when diagnosing environmental allergies.  This includes allergies to trees, grasses, molds, dust mites, molds, cockroach dander, cats, and dogs.

Skin testing is performed by putting small drops of diluted allergen (such as extracts from grasses) on the skin and then pricking the skin under the drop.  If you are allergic, you will develop a red, itchy bump (called a wheal).  The size of the wheal can indicate how allergic you are to the substance.  The testing is briefly uncomfortable, but many children tolerate it without difficulty.

Testing is useful so that you can identify what your child is allergic to and make adjustments as needed.  For example, if your child is allergic to dust mites, there are special coverings that you can put on your child’s pillow and bed mattress to reduce the number of dust mites that your child is exposed to at night.  If your child is allergic to pollen, you can avoid too many outdoor activities when the pollen count is high.

Allergies can be managed usually with over-the-counter medications.  These include Claritin, Zyrtec, and now Allegra.  These come in liquid, dissolvable tablet and swallow tablet forms. Benadryl can be useful for short-term treatment, but can sometimes make children very drowsy.  If your child has many allergies or has significant other problems triggered by allergies, such as wheezing, then allergy shots may be useful.  Allergy shots help your child’s body get “used to” the substance that he/she is allergic to by introducing it to the body in very small amounts and gradually increasing the amounts over time.

Common symptoms of allergies include runny nose, sneezing, itchy eyes and/or mild sore throat without fever.  If your child has fever, severe cough, eye discharge, or persistent thick nasal discharge or cough (especially if more than two weeks), then it's not just allergies, and you should call your child’s doctor.

Enjoy the spring weather, and (aah-choo!) thanks for reading!