DEAR DOCTOR K: My 7-year-old daughter suffers from allergies every spring and fall. What can I do?
DEAR READER: Spring and fall are my favorite seasons, as is true for many people. But for those who suffer from seasonal allergies, spring and fall can be very unpleasant. Weeks of sniffling, sneezing, head congestion, red eyes and scratchy throats make it hard to appreciate the beauty and mild weather.
Seasonal allergies are caused by pollens (from weeds, grasses and trees) and mold spores. These allergens get into the air — and into our noses, eyes and lungs, causing the symptoms of hay fever.
For children, who are generally outside more than adults, allergy season can be an especially unhappy time. There are ways, however, to help your daughter feel better.
With allergies, prevention is first and foremost. Here are some suggestions:
— Keep windows closed, especially in your child’s bedroom.
— Keep air conditioners turned on.
— Encourage your daughter to play inside when pollen counts are high.
— Keep your daughter indoors between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m., when airborne pollen is at its peak.
— Get outside on rainy, wet, cloudy and windless days, when pollen counts are lower.
— Have your daughter shower (including washing her hair) and change her clothes before bed.
— Keep car windows closed when you drive.
— Mow the lawn and rake leaves when your child isn’t at home.
Of course, it’s hard to prevent all exposure. Ask the pediatrician if any of these medications might help:
— ANTIHISTAMINES block the effects of histamine, a chemical the body releases during allergic reactions. They are available without a prescription in liquid and pill forms. But these drugs can make children sleepy — or hyperactive.
— LEUKOTRIENE MODIFIERS are prescription medicines that block leukotrienes, chemicals released by the body during inflammation.
— CROMOLYN. This non-prescription, anti-inflammatory nasal spray can help control nasal allergy symptoms.
— NASAL STEROID SPRAYS. Available only by prescription, these are sprayed into the nose to relieve nasal congestion and sneezing.
— TOPICAL EYE MEDICATIONS. If itchy, runny eyes are a problem for your daughter, her doctor may prescribe eye drops.
Doctors today have an arsenal of medicines to help relieve the symptoms of allergies. It’s still no fun to have seasonal allergies, but with the distraction of symptoms eased by new treatments, it’s easier to appreciate spring and fall for the beautiful times of year they are.
Dr. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. To send questions, go to AskDoctorK.com, or write: Ask Doctor K, 10 Shattuck St., Second Floor, Boston, MA 02115.