Information adapted from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology and American Academy of Pediatrics websites.
Seasonal allergic rhinitis (hay fever) affects many children, especially this time of year. If your children experience allergies, they may experience sneezing, stuffiness, a runny nose and itchiness in the nose, the roof of the mouth, throat, eyes or ears. These allergic reactions are most commonly caused by pollen and mold spores in the air, which start a chain reaction in the immune system.
The immune system controls how the body defends itself. For instance, if your child has an allergy to pollen, the immune system identifies pollen as an invader or allergen. The immune system overreacts by producing antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE). These antibodies travel to cells that release chemicals, causing an allergic reaction.
Cold and allergy symptoms can overlap, often making it difficult for parents to distinguish between the conditions. With allergies, children typically aren’t acting sick and don’t have fevers, as they might with a cold. Symptoms with allergies can last days to weeks, while a cold typically lasts for 7-14 days. Finally, allergies are often accompanied by frequent sneezing and itching, while those symptoms are less common with a cold. As your child gets older, you may also notice a seasonal occurrence of symptoms over time, which also helps support the diagnosis of seasonal allergies.
Pollen are tiny cells needed to fertilize plants. Pollen from plants with colorful flowers, like roses, usually do not cause allergies. These plants rely on insects to transport the pollen for fertilization. On the other hand, many plants have flowers which produce light, dry pollen that are easily spread by wind. These culprits cause allergy symptoms.
Each plant has a period of pollination that does not vary much from year to year. However, the weather can affect the amount of pollen in the air at any time. The pollinating season starts later in the spring the further north one goes. Generally, the entire pollen season lasts from February or March through October.
Seasonal allergic rhinitis is often caused by tree pollen in the early spring. During the late spring and early summer, grasses often cause symptoms. Late summer and fall hay fever is caused by weeds.
Molds are tiny fungi related to mushrooms but without stems, roots or leaves. Their spores float in the air like pollen. Molds can be found almost anywhere, including soil, plants and rotting wood. Outdoor mold spores begin to increase as temperatures rise in the spring and reach their peak in July in warmer states and October in the colder states.
Effects of Weather and Location
The relationship between pollen and mold levels and your child’s symptoms can be complex. Their symptoms may be affected by recent contact with other allergens, the amount of pollen exposure and their sensitivity to pollen and mold.
Allergy symptoms are often less prominent on rainy, cloudy or windless days because pollen does not move around during these conditions. Pollen tends to travel more with hot, dry and windy weather, which can increase your allergy symptoms.
There are simple steps you can take to limit your child’s exposure to the pollen or molds that cause their symptoms.
Keep your windows closed at night and if possible, use air conditioning, which cleans, cools and dries the air.
Try to stay indoors when the pollen or mold levels are reported to be high.
Have your child stays indoors when you are mowing or raking leaves because it stirs up pollen and molds. Also avoid hanging sheets or clothes outsidere to dry.
Protect your child from exposure to smoke, especially in the home or car.
There are medications, both over the counter and prescription, that we can suggest to control allergy symptoms that are interfering with daily activities. If children don’t experience relief from their allergy symptoms with medications, or if their symptoms are particularly severe, we will also refer patients to the allergist for allergy testing and possibly to discuss allergy shots (immunotherapy).
Monitor pollen and mold levels found in our area at the National Allergy Bureau.
You may also access additional information about allergies from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (www.aaaai.org) or the American Academy of Pediatrics (www.aap.org).