Sniffle, sneeze, scratch. It’s allergy season, and your kids are suffering. The symptoms are easy to spot: head congestion, sneezing, itchy eyes and throat irritation. Exposure to pollen in allergic children can also trigger asthma attacks, so it’s important to be aware of ways you can help reduce their symptoms.
Pollen from trees, grasses and weeds cause allergy symptoms when they are inhaled or get in the eyes, and pollen season is lasting longer now due to climate change.
Pollen can travel long distances in the wind—so even if pollen is miles away, it can still cause allergy symptoms.
Allergies to pollen generally occur at the same time of year depending on what type you or your children are allergic to. There are three distinct pollen seasons—trees, grasses and weeds—although they can overlap. Trees release pollen first, in the spring, followed by grasses in the summer and weeds in the fall. This may vary depending on weather conditions and where you live. To know which type of pollen you are allergic to, it is best to get skin tested by an allergist.
You can’t control the pollen levels, but all hope is not lost. To help lessen the effects of what’s happening outside, look inside. There are several steps you can take at home to help your children get through the allergy season.
The bedroom is the most important room in the house. The bedroom is most important because it is where kids spend a third to a half their time. Limiting the amount of pollen in the bedroom can have a tremendous impact on allergy symptoms in your kids.
Mind your pets. When household pets spend time outdoors, they can trap pollens on their fur and bring them into your home. Keep pets out of bedrooms and wash dogs and cats (Yes, cats too!) at least once a week to help reduce the allergens they carry.
Close windows. Though it’s tempting to bring in some “fresh air” when the weather is warm, keep windows and doors closed. With warm weather comes pollen season. In Colorado, pollen season can run from February to early November. During this time, open windows allow pollen from trees, grasses and weeds to make their way into your home, triggering allergy symptoms. To keep air cool, run the air conditioner and change filters often.
Change clothes. It’s important to change out of pollen-ridden clothes after spending time outdoors, especially on high pollen-count days. For the biggest impact, have kids change their clothes before walking through the entire house. This will help prevent spreading pollen stuck to clothing throughout the house. Also, wash these clothes in hot water and use a dryer at medium to high heat. Avoid air-drying clothes outside.
Don’t forget bath time. Daily baths and washing hair are all good ways to wash off the pollen. This is especially important after a trip to the park or playground—or any place in which kids like to roll around in the grass and climb on trees.
Take allergy medication at night. Hay fever symptoms generally peak early in the morning, shortly after waking up. Reduce morning symptoms by taking your allergy medications at night. This assures that it will be circulating in your blood stream when you most need it, early the next morning. Allergy symptoms generally peak at about 4 a.m.
Avoid humidity. One of the great things about living in Colorado is the dry, desert air. Dry air is a relief to many allergy sufferers who have mold and dust mite allergies. Dust mites are tiny bugs that like to eat skin cells and swell from ambient humidity. When dust mite particles are inhaled, they can trigger nasal and respiratory allergies. To help keep dust mites at bay, keep humidity in your home below 40 percent and avoid using humidifiers and swamp coolers. If your dry nose is bothering you use a saline nasal gel, such as Ayr Saline Nasal Gel or Neilmed Nasogel.
Kanwaljit Brar, MD, is a pediatric allergist with National Jewish Health for Kids.