When you're a kid, there's nothing better than playing outdoors on a beautiful spring afternoon. But when allergy season kicks in, causing sneezing, coughing and runny noses, it's no fun for anyone, especially children who may have a history of asthma. How can parents know when it's okay to treat symptoms at home, or when it might be serious enough to see the pediatrician?
Before it starts.
Allergens are tough to avoid completely, says Florida Hospital Medical Group pediatrician Dr. Miles Landis. Still, there are a few steps parents can take as the season ramps up that may make things easier on the whole family.
- Keep it clean: Sweep, dust, vacuum, and disinfect your house frequently. Kids and adults can track in allergens like pollen and grasses on their clothes and shoes. If you can't avoid them outside, at least reduce them inside.
- Go over the counter: "Parents should be aware that good allergy medications, including nose sprays, are available these days without a prescription," says Dr. Landis. "If symptoms are beginning to appear, consult your pharmacist on the best non-drowsy antihistamine options. Sometimes that's all you need."
- Know when to come in: If your child can't seem to shake symptoms, see your pediatrician. "If over-the-counter medications aren't doing the job, we need to check it out, especially if a fever develops," says Dr. Landis. "The same things you see with allergies could indicate the common cold or an infection like sinusitis or an upper respiratory infection.”
Which is it? Allergies, Infection or the Common Cold?
"Sometimes it's not easy to tell," Dr. Landis says. "Obviously, if there's fever involved, there's some kind of infection. Allergies won't have a fever. And allergies cause more itching around the eyes than say, the common cold." Here's a handy chart that can help determine what you're dealing with when symptoms flare.
|Duration of Illness||Over 10-14 days||Under 10 days||Varies|
|Nasal Discharge||Thick, yellow green||Thick, whitish or thin||Clear, thin, watery|
|Pain in upper teeth||Sometimes||No||No|
What about asthma?
If a child is having such difficulty with symptoms that wheezing develops, see a doctor. Wheezing -- a whistling sound you hear when you breathe – can be present with allergies, but is normally associated with asthma. Asthma and some allergic reactions are similar in that they affect the airways and lungs. This can make the airways swollen and narrow, sometimes causing mucus to form. "Family history plays a big part in a child's risk for asthma," Dr. Landis says. "Parents should talk to their pediatrician if they have any concerns at all about asthma."
When should we see our pediatrician?
- Your child is experiencing wheezing, even mild wheezing, for the first time
- Your child's wheezing is recurrent
- Your child is wheezing but has no history of allergies
When should we go to the ER?
- Your child is having difficulty breathing
- Your child's lips or skin have a bluish tint
- Your child begins wheezing after choking on food
- Your child begins wheezing after being stung by an insect
Miles Landis, MD, has been practicing pediatrics in Central Florida since establishing Lake Mary Pediatrics in 1988. He provides comprehensive primary healthcare services for children of all ages, and serves as a principle investigator for clinical trials for a variety of disorders diagnosed in childhood, including autism.