A Guide to Seasonal Allergies in Kids

Seasonal allergies affectroughly 15-20% of the population and can cause some general discomfort based on the symptoms one experiences. Sai R. Nimmagadda, MD, Attending Physician, Allergy & Immunology, shares how families can identify, manage, and treat allergies in children.  

Signs of Seasonal Allergies in Kids

Dr. Nimmagadda says seasonal allergies will typically present as symptoms such as:

  • Itchy, watery, or burning eyes
  • Nasal congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Watery nose
  • Throat clearing/post-nasal drip
  • Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing

He also advises parents to keep an eye on non-traditional symptoms such as chronic ear and sinus infections, snoring and mouth breathing, and recommends families consult an allergist to ensure there isn’t an allergic component driving these less-common issues.

Did you know allergy symptoms can impact a child’s quality of life? Experiencing these symptoms on a regular basis can interrupt sleeping habits, making it more difficult to focus during the day, in school, etc.

What could my child be allergic to?

As the name would suggest, allergens tend to change with the season, but aren’t exclusive to just one season. They’re something to be mindful of throughout the entire year.

Heading into spring, trees are beginning to bud, therefore kids might expect tree pollen to irritate them. Particularly this year, as Winter 2024 has been milder than years past, experts have seen measurable tree pollen and molds in the pollen counts much earlier than usual. This means those who typically suffer from allergies are likely experiencing the onset of symptoms sooner than what they might be used to. Ultimately, Dr. Nimmagadda says we’re looking at a longer and stronger pollen season in 2024.

In the summer and fall, molds as well as grass and weed pollens are more prevalent, whereas winter allergies tend to be caused by dust mites, pet dander and even mice and cockroach contamination.

While it may not be realistic to completely prevent exposure from potential allergens year-round, being aware of what each season may bring is a first step in helping mitigate allergy-related issues.

How and when can my child be diagnosed with seasonal allergies?

Dr. Nimmagadda explains that families can address allergies in one of two ways: once symptoms have become noticeably bothersome to the child, or by proactively bringing them to a physician for allergy testing.

Both require a quick and simple procedure called skin testing, where the child is safely tested for various allergens based on their medical history and symptoms. It’s a 20-minute process and very easy to perform for children even down to 6 months old. Based on the results of the skin testing, the doctor can make a diagnosis and determine a treatment plan.

Families are welcome to do proactive allergy testing any time during childhood, notes Dr. Nimmagadda, but exposure and duration to exposure are important considerations when it comes to the timeline of understanding allergies. Typically, allergies become symptomatic around three-five years of age, whereas kids younger than three likely haven’t yet developed the antibodies that react to outdoor allergens. Ultimately, it can take a few seasons to know what a child’s specific allergic profile will be.

How are seasonal allergies treated?

Dr. Nimmagadda’s primary approach to treatment is to:

  1. Diagnose
  2. Mitigate exposure if possible
  3. Identify what medications are needed based on the child’s symptoms

Typically, “second-generation" antihistamine medications (i.e., produces less side effects such as drowsiness) are prescribed to patients, and there are several approved over-the-counter options available for kids as young as two years old.

As far as home remedies go, parents can also proactively get rid of lingering irritants by encouraging kids to change their clothes when they come in from outside and take a shower or bath. He also recommends doing a saline nasal rinse if symptoms are especially troublesome.

For a more permanent solution or in a more severe case where a child isn’t as responsive to medications, Dr. Nimmagadda considers offering immunotherapy: a series of desensitization shots that have more long-term effects on symptoms. “These can be life-changing,” he says.” They block the symptoms from even starting.”

Can a child outgrow seasonal allergies, or can they appear later in adolescence without prior history?

Dr. Nimmagadda notes that allergies can develop at any time, even well into adolescence and adulthood. Most children who have allergies in childhood vary in severity and are dependent on many variables: the type of allergies the child has, the exposure to those triggers, response to medicines, among others.

Most children will not outgrow allergies, but the course and progression can vary. If a child continues to have allergic symptoms despite some level of intervention, he notes that additional testing may be needed.

How can I tell if my child has seasonal allergies or COVID-19?

While COVID-19 and traditional cold symptoms can resemble those of seasonal allergies, the main indicator for parents to be aware of is a fever, says Dr. Nimmagadda. An allergic reaction won’t cause a fever, so if your child is experiencing one, he recommends seeking care more in line with an infection and getting appropriately tested for COVID-19.

Milder or traditional colds or Upper Respiratory Tract Infections can resemble those of seasonal allergies and oftentimes cannot be differentiated from COVID infections. The extreme loss of taste and smell could be a sign of COVID infections, although some milder loss of taste and smell can also be due to nasal congestion from seasonal allergies. When in doubt and or symptoms are lingering more than usual or other symptoms develop better to get tested and take precautions as necessary.

Lurie Children’s Division of Allergy and Immunology

Lurie Children’s Division of Allergy and Immunology is a leader in the field, having worked with national organizations to improve the understanding and care of pediatric asthma, allergies and immune deficiencies. Our physicians treat more children for allergies and asthma than any other hospital in Illinois.

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