Helping Your Kids Through Allergy Season

Children, allergies
It's the time of year when tissue sales go through the roof: fall allergy season has arrived. Though it's not quite fall, the conditions of the summer - especially humidity- set up the arrival of ragweed, molds and dust mites, which can cause runny noses, red eyes, sneezing, wheezing and more.

Those symptoms are enough to handle as an adult; when kids are hit with allergic symptoms, they seem especially vulnerable.

Ragweed is a common allergy for both children and adults. "Ragweed is the No. 1 fall and late summer weed in most areas of the U.S. that causes fall allergies," Clifford Bassett, MD, medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York, told "One ragweed plant can produce one billion pollen grains that can travel from 300 to 700 miles in the air."

When humidity is present in the air, as it is during much of the summer, molds and dust mites can grow and spread quickly throughout the home, especially when dirty ventilation systems are turned on for the first time in months.
We asked our Dr. Emily Senay to discuss how to help kids who are hit with seasonal allergies.

The Early Show: What are some of the substances that can stir up a child's allergies?

Dr. Senay: Unfortunately, there's no shortage of them. Trees, and grass and weeds are loaded with pollen. There's fungus all around us ... often contained in mold so small that the naked eye can't even see it. There are allergens in the fur of animals ... Including cats and dogs and guinea pigs and gerbils and rabbits and other household pets. Insects like cockroaches can also trigger allergies, as can stings from bees or wasps. The latex in rubber gloves and balloons and certain toys can cause allergic reactions. So can foods. We hear a lot about peanut allergies. Kids can also be allergic to milk and eggs and wheat and fish ... Among other foods. And of course there's all that dust ... Which contains dust mites as well as ground up bits of all the other allergens I've already mentioned. For a child who is prone to allergies, it's hard to get away.

How can you tell if your child does have allergies?

Some very common signs include cold-like symptoms that last for more than a week or two, or recur at the same time each year. Other telltale signs include itching or tingling in the mouth or throat. Colds don't usually itch. Allergies often do. Itchy or runny eyes are another sign. Coughing or wheezing, difficulty breathing and other respiratory symptoms can also be signs of allergy. If they increase at night or with exercise, the cause may be asthma. Allergy symptoms can also involve the skin. The child can have itchy, dry, sometimes scaly rashes in the creases of the skin or on the wrists and ankles.

So what is a parent to do?

Your pediatrician is the person to ask for specifics about your child. The medications the doctor recommends may include antihistamines, which help relieve itchy, watery eyes, runny noses and sneezing. Decongestants help relieve stuffy noses. There also are steroid-based nasal sprays that your doctor might prescribe.

In more severe cases of allergy, where other remedies aren't working ... A doctor may administer allergy shots. Those tend to be most effective for hay fevers and insect stings (and) less so for food allergies. The downside for shots is that a long series of injections is often needed. And they can have side effects of their own, including skin rashes.

Do allergies ever go away, or is a child who has them stuck with them?

It is possible for a child to outgrow some allergies, especially food allergies. But generally, allergies tend to stick with us. We do the best we can to avoid the allergens and treat the symptoms, but beyond that, I'm afraid they're often ours for life.