This article originally appeared in the April 28, 2011, edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
In St. Louis, we’re finally hearing the soundtrack of spring: Birds chirping, kids playing outside and the classic warm-weather sounds of sneezing.
Seasonal allergies can be particularly ferocious in the spring, when plants start growing and blooming and pollen counts start rising.
Those with allergies have learned to recognize their tell-tale signs, but parents should watch children for signs of allergies, too.
Itchy eyes, sneezing, nasal congestion and coughing are classic symptoms of seasonal allergies in both adults and children. But these symptoms can often go undiagnosed and inadequately treated in children, says Dr. Brad Becker, an allergy specialist at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and Saint Louis University.
“The first year it happens, parents may be confused as to what’s occurring,” Dr. Becker said. “Most commonly, parents think the child has a cold. But when the symptoms are not accompanied by fever and tend to recur every spring with a lot of itching– those are the hallmarks of a seasonal allergy.”
Allergies may not appear in the child’s first years of life, which can add to parents’ difficulty in recognizing allergies. Most children do not develop an allergy to pollen until about ages 3 to 8.
Heredity plays a role in a child’s allergies. If both parents have allergies, there is a 50 percent chance the child will have allergies too.
Parents with concerns about allergies should talk to their child’s doctor. In mild cases, non-prescription medications may help reduce symptoms, but these medicines are only effective if parents take steps to limit exposure to pollen and other allergens, Dr. Becker said. Children with more severe allergies can have trouble sleeping, which can contribute to hyperactivity and difficulty performing in school.
Local weather forecasters often reference a day’s given pollen count. Limiting outdoor exposure on these days can help lessen allergy symptoms in children. As a general rule, pollen counts are higher in the morning and on dry, breezy days.
If symptoms continue and begin affecting a child’s quality of life, Dr. Becker recommends seeking a pediatric allergy specialist, who might recommend testing for specific allergens, prescription medications and in some cases, injections to lessen the allergic response.
When a child is experiencing trouble with allergies, parents shouldn’t delay a doctor’s appointment. A common myth is that all children “outgrow” their allergies, but that doesn’t always happen.
“This is true of some children, but more than half of children continue to have symptoms into adulthood,” Dr. Becker says. “Many children do not outgrow or tolerate their allergies until late in their grade school years or even middle school years, so it’s worth getting the child evaluated and treated.”
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.