Having allergies is a challenge for even the most responsible adults. There are medications to watch out for, triggers to avoid, and symptoms to manage on a regular basis. But when children have allergies, management can be especially difficult.
“A child’s allergies can present a unique set of challenges for any parent,” allergist Dr. Tania Elliot tells Yahoo Life. After all, you’re trying to stay on top of symptoms that aren’t yours in someone who may not have the right language or conscience to tell you how they’re feeling. Add to that reports of the earliest spring in parts of the United States in the past four decades, and allergies in children are very difficult for parents to manage, especially this year.
Still, there are some things you can do to manage your child’s allergies, whether you focus on prevention at this stage or are already struggling with symptoms. Consider them when formulating an allergy plan.
1. There are some things you can do to reduce your child’s risk of developing allergies in their first year of life.
It’s important to frame this by saying that you’re doing your best and that some things just can’t be helped. But Elliot says there’s a chance you can potentially reduce your child’s risk of developing allergies by doing these three things, as long as they fit your lifestyle:
Try having a pet.
Research has shown that having a cat or dog in the home for the first 12 months of life can actually reduce the risk of developing allergies. Obviously, you don’t want to have a pet just because it can reduce the risk of developing allergies. But if you’re considering adding a furry friend to the mix or already have a pet, it’s good to know that it could actually reduce your child’s allergy risk.
Avoid unnecessary use of antibiotics.
Children get sick and sometimes need antibiotics to feel better. But antibiotics are generally over-prescribed in the United States. If your child doesn’t need them or your pediatrician is reluctant to prescribe them, Elliot says it’s best to avoid their use. “You want to try to avoid exposure to antibiotics in the first 12 months,” she says. After all, a 2019 study published in JAMA Pediatrics found that infants who received antibiotics, including penicillin, cephalosporin, sulfonamide or macrolide, had a higher likelihood of developing food allergies, asthma or dermatitis. Again, if your child has an infection and needs antibiotics, listen to your doctor’s advice. But if your doctor thinks they’re unnecessary, it’s best to avoid them.
Think of country life.
If you’re considering a move, consider this, says Elliot: “Studies have shown that if you live on a farm, you can actually reduce your risk of developing allergies later in childhood and even into adulthood. .” Of course, you shouldn’t move just because you’re worried about your child’s allergy risk. But if a move to a more rural area is already being discussed, it’s worth considering.
2. Is it allergies or a cold?
Most children will have six to eight colds a year, which makes stuffy noses and coughs relatively common among children. But it’s understandable to at least wonder if your child’s symptoms could be caused by allergies. Elliot recommends considering these factors:
When did the symptoms start? Look for a pattern. “If they happen every spring around the same time, it’s likely to be allergies,” Elliot says.
How long do the symptoms last? Colds typically last less than 10 days, Elliot says; allergies will last several weeks to several months.
What other symptoms does your child have? “A really important point about allergies – they never cause a fever or cause swollen lymph nodes,” says Elliot. “So if your child has these symptoms, chances are it’s not allergies, but probably an infection.”
3. What to do if your child has allergies
Allergies happen in children, and there are some important steps to take if you suspect your child has allergies.
Have it tested. “The first is to find out what they are allergic to – you can do this by taking an allergy test,” says Elliot. This can be done via a skin test performed at an allergist’s office or blood tests.
Try to avoid triggers. This may be easier said than done, but, if possible, Elliot recommends doing what you can to help your child avoid their allergen. This may mean keeping the air conditioning on and your windows closed if your child is allergic to pollen, as well as asking him to remove his shoes and change his clothes when he comes home. “We want to make sure that we reduce the chances of pollen getting into the house and then keep the indoor air clean with an air filter,” says Elliot.
Talk to your doctor about treatment options. There are medical and non-medical therapies that can help your child, Elliot says. “Non-medical options are things like a neti pot or nasal saline solution, just to flush out the nasal passages,” she says. (But read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully before use and be sure to always use distilled, sterile, or pre-boiled water.) “There are over-the-counter options like antihistamines, which also help,” Elliot says. “But it’s always important to speak with your doctor first.”
If you suspect your child has seasonal allergies, talk to a pediatrician, who can recommend next steps to help you get answers and a solution.