Achoo! Navigating Seasonal Allergies

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The grass is growing, the trees are blossoming and the kids are sneezing. For about 25% of us, there’s at least one seasonal allergy that’s dug its claws in.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 25.7% of adults and 18.9% of children have a seasonal allergy. But what are seasonal allergies, really? What causes them, and what can parents do?

We spoke with Dr. Daniel Spielman, a board-certified otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat doctor) at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, to better understand this common seasonal woe.

What are seasonal allergies?

Seasonal allergies occur when your immune system overreacts to particles in the air that you breath—particles that are harmless to most people. These reactions typically happen during certain times of the year when trees, grasses and weeds release tiny pollen particles into the air. However, certain people are allergic to particles that are present year-round, such as dust mites. Essentially, your body is attacking something that it thinks is dangerous, even though it is not. The symptoms that we experience are actually caused by our body’s immune system, not the allergen itself.

What are the symptoms of seasonal allergies?

Common symptoms of seasonal allergies include sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, itching of the nose, eyes or throat and watery or red eyes. For some people, symptoms are extremely mild and not bothersome, but for others, they can have a significant impact on quality of life.

What causes seasonal allergies?

Seasonal allergies are caused by the immune system’s response to airborne particles, such as pollen from trees, grasses and weeds. The immune system mistakenly identifies these harmless particles as dangerous, releasing chemicals like histamine into the bloodstream, which lead to allergy symptoms.

What are some of the most common spring/early summer allergens?

Common spring and early summer allergens include tree, grass and weed pollens. The specific allergens and their peak times can vary depending on the geographic location.

When do seasonal allergies warrant a visit to the pediatrician?

Seasonal allergies warrant a visit to a doctor when symptoms are severe, persistent or interfere with the child’s ability to sleep or participate in daily activities. I typically recommend that symptomatic children be evaluated by their pediatrician first. However, for severe symptoms, a referral to an allergist or otolaryngologist is often beneficial. Allergy testing can be helpful to confirm the diagnosis and identify triggers to minimize exposure.

Is there any merit to “toughing it out” without allergy medication?

The short answer is no. While mild symptoms may not require medication, “toughing it out” and avoiding treatment for severe symptoms can lead to unnecessary discomfort and could exacerbate other associated conditions, such as asthma or sinusitis.

When should parents medicate their children for allergies?

Parents should consider medicating their children for allergies when symptoms are affecting their well-being, sleep or ability to participate in school or activities. If you see that your child experiences common allergy symptoms and is uncomfortable after playing outside, consider seeking treatment. It’s important to consult with a pediatrician to choose the right medication and dosage, especially for younger children. There are so many different over-the-counter allergy medications. Make sure you look at the active ingredients to understand what medications you are using.

How can parents minimize the impact of seasonal allergens in the home?

One can minimize the impact of seasonal allergens by using air purifiers with
HEPA filters, ensuring regular cleaning to remove dust and pet dander, washing bedding in hot water weekly and showering and changing clothes after being outdoors. Additionally, monitoring pollen counts and limiting outdoor activities when counts are high can also help reduce exposure.


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