My Daffodils are blooming, which means it’s allergy time in the pediatric ER. The nicer the day, and the more time kids spend outside, the busier I get. Allergies are much more than runny noses and watery eyes. What really sends kids to the ER are complications from allergies, such as coughs that turn into pneumonia, sniffles that turn into sinus and ear infections, and severe eye allergies that make the white of the eye puff out.
Asthma and eczema go hand-in-hand with seasonal allergies—asthma is really a form of allergy in the lung, and eczema is a form of allergy in the skin. The medical term for the trio of asthma, eczema, and allergies is “atopic diseases.” When these children come to see me in the middle of an asthma attack, I see their flaring eczema and drippy noses. I try to treat it all.
Wouldn’t it be better to prevent allergies in the first place? Here are 5 tricks to avoid allergies this spring:
1) Bathe or shower your kids every night: Wash all that pollen out of their hair before they spread it all over their pillow case and bed linens. Feeling tempted to skip bath and get the kids to bed earlier? Think about getting up at 4 am with an asthmatic child or a toddler with yellow gunk running out of their nose.
2) Give your dog a bath, too: Dogs and cats track that pollen all over your house. Although pet dander can be a major allergy trigger, there is good research that exposure to indoor-outdoor pets during early childhood can actually prevent allergies later in life.
3) Get the laundry done: Wear fresh, clean clothes daily. Even if something looks clean or was only worn for a few hours, it’s probably full of pollen and dust mites. Wash bed linens at least weekly.
4) Spring clean your bed: Allergies worse at night? Time to get rid of the dust mites and pollen in your bedding. Here’s the good news: you can kill dust mites just by drying your bedding in a regular household clothes dryer on the hottest setting. Specifically, you want your dryer at or above 140 degrees. Since you can’t put your mattress in a dryer, get an anti-allergy mattress cover to keep the dust mites and the pollen out.
5) Close the windows: I love to open the windows, turn on the ceiling fans, and air the house out. Except now when I do that I’m up at 3 am with my asthmatic son. Our homes need to be sanctuaries for our children with allergies. They need to know that they can come inside and breathe easily.
6) Change air filters: A new filter for your air conditioner or furnace only costs a few dollars. Buy a big pack and try to change them regularly. You’ll increase the energy efficiency of your HVAC system, too. The more you change your filters, the less often you have to clean your ventilation ducts, too.
7) Keep your nose clean: Your nose is the air filter for your lungs. Clean it out and get rid of all the pollen it traps. The easiest way is to buy a spray bottle of nasal saline at any drug store, then do a good job blowing your nose. For toddlers who struggle with nose-blowing, use a nasal aspiratory or bulb syringe to suck out their nose, just like you did when they were infants. A neti-pot is another option for nose cleaning, especially for older children and adults. A neti pot is an affordable device that allows you to irrigate your nose and sinues in your own bathroom.
8) Stop sweeping: When you sweep a floor, you stir up allergens. It can take several hours for them to settle again. Instead, invest in a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter and vacuum your floors.
9) Talk to your doctor before you try honey for allergies: There have been no peer-reviewed pediatric studies that have shown eating local honey reduces allergies. But the theory behind this idea makes sense. The idea is that ingesting local honey is kind of like a vaccine against allergies. You expose your immune system to small amounts of local allergens in the honey, thereby teaching your immune system that these substances are normal and should not be attacked. As an added bonus, honey has been shown to be effective as a natural cough syrup, especially for night time cough. There is good research behind this!
Honey is not without medical risk, especially raw honey. Honey can trigger allergy, especially in kids with severe allergies. Infants under one year of age should never eat honey due to the risk of botulism.
10) Use the right over-the-counter allergy medications: A few years ago people used to pay high co-pays for prescription allergy medications that are now available over the counter. If you know what you’re looking for, you can even buy the generic versions very affordably. Allegra, for example, is sold under the generic name Fexofenadine. Claritin is also known as loratadine, and Zyrtec is cetirizine.
Take antihistamines early, at the first sign of allergies. Don’t wait until things become unbearable. You may have to stay on them for most of the spring allergy season. Antihistamines can even suppress eczema, asthma, and food allergies. Have a conversation with your pediatrician about what over-the-counter pediatric anti-histamines are right for your child. Then, stock up so you’re not running out in the middle of the night or on your way to school/work.
Your pediatrician has many more tricks up his or her sleeve to tame those allergies, including many options for prescription medications. Allergies are very treatable, but you may have to try several approaches before you find what works for your child. You’ll be glad when you avoid the ER at three and are up in the morning to smell the daffodils.