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While most people welcome spring with open arms, an estimated 35 million new and seasoned allergy sufferers may not be so excited.
These folks are generally the first to realize that spring is, quite literally, in the air. They’re faced with questions about how to recognize, understand, prevent and treat seasonal allergies. While it’s hard to believe with snow still on the ground, the fact is we’re fast approaching that predictable time of year when the runny noses of “cold season” are replaced by those provoked by pollen.
In general, think of allergies as the body’s over-reaction to something. That “something” being an allergen – certain foods, pet dander, dust, medicines, mold spores, pollen, etc.
Every person is different when it comes to whether their body reacts to allergens, which ones and how bad. Some people go through life with no allergies whatsoever. Others experience reactions ranging in severity – from a simple runny and/or itchy nose, eyes, mouth, throat and ears, to wheezing or worse.
These symptoms definitely have some overlap with those of the common cold. In fact, the runny/stuffy nose and sneezing offer little insight into whether a cold or an allergy is to blame. Coughs, on the other hand, are more likely to mean cold. And the presence of itchy eyes or nose points to allergies. There’s actually a term for that habitual upward nose-wiping gesture you often see kids doing. It’s called an “allergic” or “nasal salute.”
If you start seeing possible allergy symptoms in your kids, have a conversation with their pediatrician. Figuring out the cause of your child’s symptoms is going to determine how best to treat and prevent them. The ideal approach is to prevent exposure to the culprit allergen(s) altogether. In many instances, avoidance can be challenging but nevertheless doable – like peanuts or penicillin.
In contrast, Spring’s molds and pollens literally make their way into the air we breath, making absolute avoidance much less realistic. A typical pollen season can run from March through October, and the amount of pollen in the air can vary from day to day depending on the weather (with hot, dry and windy days especially bad). Keeping windows closed, using an air conditioner, air purifier, humidifier or air filters, and staying indoors when pollen counts peak can certainly help.
There is also a wide range of medicines – antihistamines, nasal steroids, decongestants, and allergy shots – that help prevent allergic reactions or minimize symptoms once they appear.
Be sure to brush up on your allergy-prevention plan and treatment if your child has been diagnosed with seasonal allergies in years past, and check in with your pediatrician if you suspect them.
As we jump straight from the snow into spring, many little noses are likely to keep on running, so keep an eye out for the telltale signs of allergies vs. cold. And it’s not a bad idea to continue to keep a box of tissues on hand!
Dr. Laura Jana is an Omaha-based pediatrician and proud mom of three. She is the co-author of two parenting books and founder of Practical Parenting Consulting. She is a media spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics and owner of Primrose School of Legacy in Omaha. She blogs every second Tuesday of the month.
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