For some children, allergies don’t stop when school lets out. Summertime sniffles can put a damper on warm-weather plans, so here's what parents need to know about symptoms, treatment, and prevention methods.
What Causes Summer Allergies?
According to Dr. Todd Mahr, Director of Pediatric Allergy/Asthma/Immunology at Gunderson Lutheran Hospital in La Crosse, Wisconsin, summer allergies are often caused by grasses like Johnson, timothy, Kentucky bluegrass, sweet vernal, redtop, orchard, and Bermuda. These grasses usually start bothering people in May, and symptoms last throughout the summer.
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Weeds—the biggest cause of fall symptoms—can also cause late summer allergies. The main culprit is ragweed, a flowering plant found across America that can travel long distances in windy weather. Other allergy-causing weeds include pigweed, cockleweed, sagebrush, Russian thistle, and tumbleweed.
Finally, certain people may have a reaction to mold, which thrives in warm conditions. You’ll discover mold anywhere that’s damp, such as compost piles, grasses, and rotting logs. Spores pollute the air when the mold is disturbed, making the allergens easy to inhale. Mold becomes especially problematic during late summer and fall.
Here are other factors that can worsen summer allergy symptoms:
Thunderstorms. Calm before the storm? Not always! Blustery winds that come prior to a downpour push pollen and mold into the air, which can cause asthma and allergies to worsen; the rainfall can wash allergens away. Watch the forecast for storms, and go to a centrally air-conditioned space once you know one is approaching.
Pools. The chemicals in chlorine can trigger asthma symptoms (and irritated eyes or nose), but it’s uncommon in kids who only have seasonal allergies. If this is a problem for your child, have her take an antihistamine, use an over-the-counter nose spray, or take her asthma meds before entering the pool. She’ll be ready to swim in no time.
Patio Furniture: Padded chairs on a patio or screened-in porch are prone to collecting pollen and growing mold in hot, humid weather. When your child sits down, the allergens puff up. Achoo! Wipe down your furniture with a damp towel—you don’t need special cleaning agents, but you can add a small amount of bleach to the water to get rid of potential mold spores.
Summer Allergy Symptoms
Wondering whether your child has a summer cold or allergies? The biggest sign that your kid actually has a pollen problem is symptoms that stick around. “A cold usually lasts a week and then goes away,” says Jeffrey Demain, M.D., director of the Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Center of Alaska, in Anchorage. “An allergy flare, however, could last weeks or months.”
Other signs of summer allergies: a clear drip coming out of the nose (rather than a yellowish or greenish one), itchy eyes, repetitive sneezing, nasal congestion, itchy and watery eyes, and what doctors call “allergic shiners” (dark circles under the eyes caused by nasal and sinus congestion). Symptoms generally tend to worsen outdoors.
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Summer Allergy Prevention and Treatment
If you suspect an allergy, your pediatrician can start your child on a trial of an over-the-counter, non-sedating antihistamine like Children's Claritin (safe for children 2 and older), says Fuad Baroody, M.D., director of pediatric otolaryngology at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Some oral non-sedating antihistamines contain a decongestant for stuffiness, but these make some children hyper or irritable, so it's best to avoid long-term use.
Pediatricians can also perform a blood test to help pinpoint your child’s allergy triggers. For this, you'd need to see an allergist to get a skin-prick test, in which tiny amounts of various triggers are placed just under the skin in order to see what produces a rash-like response.
Allergists may need to recommend allergy shots, in which kids are injected with increasing amounts of an allergen until they become less sensitive to it. This regimen is typically reserved for children over 4 whose symptoms don't respond well to drugs.
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Here are some other ways to fight off summer allergy symptoms:
- Research current pollen and mold counts, and have your child stay inside during peak times. Warm, windy days generally lead to a high pollen count, whereas calm days can leave all that pollen on the ground rather than flying into your child's nose.
- Keep windows and doors shut during summer allergy season. An air conditioner or purifier can keep air clean in your home.
- Clean your air filters regularly.
- After your allergy-prone child plays outside, have her shower and change into clean clothes.