Ah, spring. The birds are singing, the flowers are blooming, and there's pollen everywhere! It's not surprising that some parents view the springtime appearance of crocuses and daffodils as a mixed blessing. The reason? Allergies.
Allergic disorders rank first among chronic childhood diseases. While doctors now know that any child can acquire an allergy, kids with a family history of allergies are at highest risk. Even so, there are other factors?such as weather and air pollution?that can bring on allergies.
How can you tell if your child is suffering from allergies? Look for these symptoms:
Chronic nasal congestion.
Offending pollens almost always agitate the nose, to the point that your child's breathing can be obstructed. In a more serious scenario, asthma develops.
Allergic reactions can lead to infections that might cause a decrease in hearing capability. This is especially harmful for young children who are in the crucial years of language development.
Be on the alert for allergies as a culprit if your child exhibits out-of-character crankiness when pollen counts are high.
Enough of the bad news. If your child does suffer from allergies, there is hope and help. "The key," explains Mary Anne Klein of Allergy Clean Environments, a public service organization dedicated to ridding homes of unnecessary allergens, "is to decrease one's exposure to allergens. This is an ongoing job that takes place in stages." In other words, wait! Don't sell the cat or spend hundreds on exotic treatments. Take these simple steps first. You might find that while those miserable allergic symptoms don't disappear, they are at least under control.
Have your child avoid naps on overstuffed furniture, especially where throw pillows abound.
Change bed linens more frequently during the spring, and replace the bed pillows at least once a year.
Avoid feather and down products and use comforters, pillows, sheets and blankets that include synthetics.
Replace your furnace filter regularly, and consider investing in an air purifier. During dry spells, a humidifier adds a bit of moisture to the air, which can alleviate allergic symptoms. Make sure you keep your machine clean, however, because molds that grow in humidifiers cause problems, too.
Encourage frequent hand and face washing after playtimes with the dog or cat. Bathe the pets regularly, and keep your child's pajamas and blankets free of pet hair. When possible, limit a pet's access to your children's bedrooms.
Pollen levels are highest before ten in the morning, so try to keep your child indoors until later in the morning. Watch for neighbors mowing lawns and raking, as these activities stir up mold and pollen.
You can monitor air quality through radio, TV and newspaper reports. The American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology's web site at www.aaaai.org provides ongoing pollen counts by region.
If your child suffers severely, give him an antihistamine 30 minutes before he goes out to play. Teach him to come in if he notices shortness of breath or severe congestion.
If these tips don't help and allergies are still plaguing your child, you might want to have him tested. An allergist can help you figure out what the worst offenders are, then aid you in setting up a realistic plan to keep the misery to a minimum.
Writer and mother
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