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The warmer-than-usual weather this spring has resulted in high pollen counts and a longer allergy season. So if your child is sniffing, sneezing and coughing, don't assume that she's the victim of a spring cold. Seasonal allergies might be to blame. Here's what you need to know:
What is an allergy?
Allergies are an over-reaction of the immune system. When exposed to a foreign substance (like tree pollen), most people develop antibodies to help their bodies deal with the invader. People who are allergic develop a specific kind of antibody, called IgE, which puts the immune system into overdrive and causes symptoms including itchy, watery eyes; a runny nose; nasal congestion and difficulty breathing.
How common are seasonal allergies in kids?
Allergic rhinitis (a fancy term for "stuffy, runny nose caused by allergies") is actually the most common chronic condition in childhood. According to American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, up to 40 percent of kids in the US suffer from seasonal allergies. Allergies are more common in kids with a family history of seasonal allergies, eczema or asthma. Kids with a history of eczema or food allergies are more likely to develop seasonal allergies, too. Long-term breastfeeding seems to provide some protection; kids who breastfeed more than four months are less likely develop allergies. Seasonal allergies can show up at any age, but toddlers, preschoolers and older kids are more likely to be diagnosed with seasonal allergies.
Is it allergies -- or a cold?
Allergy symptoms can mimic a cold, but they usually last longer. If your child has cold-like symptoms that last longer than a week, she may have allergies. And if those symptoms appear at the same time each year, you can be almost certain that she's got a seasonal allergy. Talk to your doctor: Your child's pediatrician may recommend allergy testing, which can pinpoint the cause of your child's distress.
If your child has allergies, you can ease her symptoms with these common-sense strategies:
--Stay indoors when pollen counts are high. Watch your local news reports, or log onto Weather.com to check the pollen levels in your area.
--Keep doors and windows closed. Fresh air is nice, but not when it makes your child sniff and sneeze! Use fans and air conditioners instead.
--Use air filters. HEPA filters for your furnace and vacuum cleaner can reduce the amount of pollen and mold in the house.
--Wash hands. Have your child wash her hands after playing outside, and before touching her face or eating food.
--Over-the-counter meds. Decongestants, antihistamines and nasal sprays can help relieve allergy symptoms. Talk to your pediatrician for suggestions.
--See your doctor. Allergy shots can help some kids overcome their allergies. Ask your doctor whether your child might benefit from them.