A CHOC pediatric allergist offers treatments and tips for avoiding seasonal allergy symptoms
You know those times when kids are excited to enjoy the outdoors, but suddenly they start sneezing, sniffling and rubbing their eyes? That’s seasonal allergies in action!
If this describes your family, know that you are not alone. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that close to 20% of children under 18 years have seasonal allergies.
What are seasonal allergies?
Seasonal allergies, also called hay fever, are allergic reactions that happen at certain times of the year. They occur when airborne allergens — like pollen from trees, grasses or weeds — enter the eyes, nose and throat.
When someone with seasonal allergies encounters these allergens, their immune system reacts excessively, releasing chemicals (such as histamine) that cause symptoms.
Can kids have seasonal allergies? Can babies have seasonal allergies?
Yes. Kids can develop allergies at any time, even if they never had seasonal allergies in years past. You can also develop allergies over time if you have moved to a new region with different pollens.
A child must be exposed to an allergen before they can be allergic to it, so kids under two years of age are less likely to develop seasonal allergies.
Visit your pediatrician if you suspect that your child has allergies — they may refer you to an allergist who can run tests to know for sure.
When are kids usually affected by seasonal allergies?
The timing of the seasonal allergy season varies by region, but generally:
- Tree pollen allergies peak in spring.
- Grass pollen allergies are common in late spring and early summer.
- Weed pollen allergies occur in late summer and early fall.
Specific timing depends on local factors and the types of allergens present. Check your local pollen forecasts for more accurate information.
Symptoms of seasonal allergies in toddlers, kids and teens
Symptoms of seasonal allergies may often look like symptoms of a common cold, but if they last more than a week or two, or if your child gets them around the same time every year, it is most likely seasonal allergies. Some common symptoms include:
- Runny nose.
- Nasal stuffiness.
- Throat clearing.
- Nose rubbing.
- Itchy, watery eyes.
How can I tell the difference between seasonal allergies, severe allergies or asthma?
Seasonal allergies will usually have symptoms as mentioned above.
Severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) will typically occur rapidly after being triggered by an allergen such as food allergies, insect stings, medications and latex. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include more severe symptoms like difficulty breathing, vomiting and possible loss of consciousness.
If you suspect your child is experiencing anaphylaxis, go to your nearest emergency department or urgent care.
Asthma can be triggered by outdoor allergens like tree, grass and weed pollens, indoor allergens or viruses, but it is a chronic condition that starts in the lungs. Typical symptoms include cough, wheeze, shortness of breath or chest tightness.
How can I tell the difference between seasonal allergies and colds?
Sneezing, nasal congestion, watery eyes and/or an itching, tingling sensation in the mouth and throat are the hallmark symptoms of seasonal allergies.
Itchiness is not usually a complaint with a cold. The common cold usually peaks during cold weather and is caused by a viral infection. With common colds, kids may also have nasal congestion, but it’s usually accompanied by a sore, itchy throat, cough, chest congestion and potentially a fever.
Treating seasonal allergies in kids
Depending on how bothersome your child’s allergy symptoms are, over-the-counter antihistamine oral medications (such as brand names Claritin, Allegra, Zyrtec), nasal sprays (like Flonase, Nasacort, Rhinocort) and eye drops (ketotifen) may offer some relief. Nasal saline rinses are also helpful. Be sure to talk to your pediatrician or allergist before giving your child these medications to ensure proper dosage.
If those treatments aren’t providing relief, an allergist may prescribe other medications (such as Singulair) or immunotherapy treatment (allergy shots) that involve gradually exposing your child to the allergen to build up their immunity over time.
Tips for kids with seasonal allergies
Besides medications, there are some easy things you can do at home to help your child’s allergies, like:
- Make sure your child washes their hands and face as soon as they come in from playing outside to avoid rubbing pollen in their eyes or nose.
- Keep your home and car windows closed during high pollen times, use air conditioning and air purifiers to filter air, and limit outdoor activities when pollen counts are high.
- Regularly clean your child’s room, vacuum with a HEPA filter, obtain allergen proof encasings and wash their bedding frequently in hot water to minimize allergens.
- Have your child take a bath at bedtime to help with any nighttime allergy problems.
- Use nasal saline rinses. Rinsing their nasal passages with a saline solution can help clear out allergens and reduce congestion.
Frequently asked questions about seasonal allergies
Season allergies may change for kids over time, with symptoms decreasing during adolescence and adulthood. However, it’s hard to predict who will outgrow their allergies and when it will happen.
The likelihood of outgrowing seasonal allergies can depend on several factors, including the specific allergens causing the allergies, the severity of the allergies and individual differences in immune system development.
Nausea is not a typical symptom of seasonal allergies, but congestion or headaches from seasonal allergies may cause your child to feel nauseous.
Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are potential symptoms of anaphylaxis or severe allergic reactions.
Yes, allergies can cause earaches in children. This happens when allergies lead to swelling in the nasal passages, blocking the drainage of fluid from the middle ear through the Eustachian tube. The pressure build-up can cause discomfort and earaches. If you think your child’s earache is due to allergies, consult your pediatrician.
For more health and wellness resources from the pediatric experts at CHOC, sign up for the Kids Health newsletter.
How to prevent and treat respiratory illnesses this season
Unfortunately, many kids get infected with respiratory illnesses in the fall and winter seasons. CHOC experts highly encourage all eligible members of households to receive their annual flu shots. Other preventative measures like good hygiene and staying home when sick can help protect families from illness. The following articles and guides provide more information.
From babies to teens, pediatricians from CHOC’s Primary Care Network partner with parents to offer immunizations, sick visits, sports physicals and more.