Pediatrician Intuition – What your pediatrician wants you to know
By Whitney Casares, M.D., M.P.H.
The streets in my neighborhood are littered with pink and white confetti from the trees that line the sidewalks – a sign of spring – and of seasonal allergies.
Seasonal allergies, also known as “hay fever,” are most commonly caused by the body’s reaction to pollens (from trees, grasses or weeds) or to mold spores (these grow in humid, damp or wet weather). Normally, people breathe in these substances and don’t have issues but, when a person has a seasonal allergy, his or her immune system acts like the substance will do damage to the body, even if it won’t. This causes symptoms, like:
Stuffy nose, sneezing or runny nose
Itchy or red eyes
Sore throat or itchy throat/ears
The symptoms are often confused with a cold or with a bacterial infection of the eyes or sinuses.
Seasonal allergies can run in families, but aren’t always hereditary. Lots of people first get seasonal allergies when they are kids and symptoms can get better or worse over time. For some, the allergies slowly go away but for others, seasonal allergies are a life-long problem.
Some people have allergy symptoms that last throughout the seasons. Year-round symptoms can be caused by:
Furry animals, like cats and dogs
Insects, like dust mites and cockroaches
Toys with animal fur
There is testing that can be done for severe seasonal allergies, especially if patients have asthma and certain allergens make their asthma worse. Testing is most often done in an allergist’s office using “skin testing.” If a skin test is performed, a doctor will put a drop of the potentially-allergic substance on your child’s skin/will make a tiny prick in the skin and will watch the skin to see if it turns red and bumpy.
You can also help prevent allergy symptoms by avoiding the things your child is allergic to. For example, people who are allergic to pollen can use air conditioners to lessen exposure to pollen in the home and car. For those with mold allergies, avoid playing in piles of dead leaves in the fall – molds like to hang out in areas of decaying vegetation. Also, pay attention to bedding, rugs and upholstered furniture. That’s where dust mites are usually found because they can find food there (for example, human skin flakes). It can also help to encase mattresses, box springs and pillows in zippable, allergen-proof covers. Wash linens and other bedding (like blankets) every 2-3 weeks in hot water. That kills the dust mites.
There are a number of treatments for allergies, including nose rinses, steroid nose sprays, antihistamines and decongestants, many of which are over the counter. For those with severe allergies, sometimes allergy doctors will use allergy shots to reduce symptoms. It’s important to talk with your child’s pediatrician before using allergy medications. There are risks and benefits to all of the medications we give our children and we want to make sure the medications they take are safe and effective.
Soon (but not soon enough for some) the colorful confetti and the sneezes that go with it will be lessened with the changing of seasons. Until then, knowing more about seasonal allergies can help to make this beautiful season more comfortable.
About the blog
This blog is written by our providers. It is not intended to replace any medical advice, but rather to share our thoughts on a variety of topics we encounter daily as primary care pediatricians in the Portland area. Each entry’s author is named under its title. This content is not based on any commercial product or service, nor is it a recommendation of such. Opinions expressed are our own and are not influenced by any form of compensation.