This article originally appeared in the April 16, 2009 issue of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
If you’re among those who sniffle at the first sign of pollen, you don’t have to be told that the allergy season is upon us. Allergies in children can cause problems ranging from an increased number of ear infections to a drop in academic performance.
“Nasal allergies can contribute to a lot of ear and sinus infections, which can drive a parent to distraction,” says Brad Becker, MD, an allergy and asthma specialist at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and associate professor of pediatrics at Saint Louis University. “The symptoms also interfere with sleep; and with poor sleep quality, you may have reduced academic performance and even behavior problems during the day.”
The allergy season is a long one. Tree pollen is the main culprit in early spring, progressing to grass pollen in May and June. After a short respite, ragweed season kicks in during late summer. Fortunately, much of the advice given to adults to reduce symptoms of seasonal allergies also applies to children: Try to avoid the outdoors if possible, keep windows closed, run the air conditioning and change the furnace filter often.
Dr. Becker also urges parents not to expose children to environmental tobacco smoke. “People are not allergic to tobacco smoke, but it’s a major irritant to the airways – both the upper and lower airways – and can make the child more susceptible to an allergic reaction.”
If symptoms linger, Dr. Becker says it’s time to talk to the child’s doctor and perhaps to an allergist. He continues that children may benefit from initial treatment with some of the newer over-the-counter antihistamine medications – but he suggests talking with the child’s physician first.
The next step would be to try prescription medications, including nasal steroid sprays, which may reduce symptoms and the number of ear and sinus infections.
An allergist can also conduct skin or blood testing to identify the exact triggers of a child’s allergies. Dr. Becker adds that if initial treatments fail to relieve symptoms, allergy injections are effective in helping about eight of 10 children.
Dr. Bob Wilmott is Chief of Pediatrics at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and is a Professor of Pediatric Medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. If you have a question about your child’s health, go to the “Ask Dr. Bob” section of the Cardinal Glennon Web site at www.cardinalglennon.com.