It’s that time of year, again. No, not gift-giving season; rather it’s allergy season.
From April to October many children suffer from seasonal allergies, which often bring sneezing, stuffy nose, runny nose and itchy, puffy eyes.
If you’ve noticed that daily dose of antihistamine, nose spray and eye drops aren’t working as good as they did last year or even earlier this season, you may be wondering if it’s time to try a different over-the-counter medicine or dosage.
Before you make another trip to the drug store, Dr. Jinzhu Li, pediatric allergist/immunologist at Akron Children’s Center for Allergy and Immunology, explains that often parents are treating symptoms, but not the actual problem.
“It’s important that parents get a proper diagnosis before treating allergy symptoms year after year with over-the-counter (OTC) medicines,” said Dr. Li. “Often parents think it’s seasonal allergies because the pollen count is high, but sometimes the child has an infection or is allergic to something else entirely. The medicine isn’t working because the real problem isn’t being treated properly.”
Dr. Li encourages parents to have an ongoing dialog with their pediatrician or family physician when allergy symptoms start and keep track of circumstances, like pollen count, throughout the season to give a more informed scenario of their child’s condition.
“When you meet with an allergist, we ask parents questions about their child’s seasonal allergy pattern, symptoms of the eyes, nose, breathing and sleeping patterns,” said Dr. Li. “After discussions we use non-invasive techniques such as a skin test or blood test to help determine the cause of symptoms. We test for more than pollen allergens, we test for molds, dust mites and pets which are often contributors to a child’s allergies.”
Although over-the-counter medicines may be part of the recommended solution for a child with certain allergies, it’s not recommended that kids take these medicines for long periods of a time, especially if their symptoms change or the child isn’t tolerating the medicine well.
Allergy shots 101
Often, a better long-term solution to treating seasonal allergies is getting allergy shots. But getting allergy shots isn’t a simple decision. It’s one that’s based on conversations with the family, the physician and personal choice.
Most often children 5 years and older can be treated with allergy shots, but they have been shown to be useful and safe in children as young as 3 years old.
“Allergy shots aren’t like infectious vaccines that can be given in just a few doses,” said Dr. Li. “With allergy injections, we inject the child, a little at a time, with the allergen that causes the child’s allergies to flare up. Over time, the child’s body builds up a tolerance for the allergen.”
There are no long-term negative side effects to allergy shots. In fact, some studies have shown that allergy shots can also help with asthma and eczema symptoms.
However, there might be short-term discomfort – the injection itself.
Allergy tolerance is built up over time so shots are given in increased doses 1 time per week for 8 months. The shots continue once a month for 3 to 5 years to completely desensitize specific allergens.
Although this seems like a lot of needle sticking, Dr. Li has found that once kids see that shots are working, they’re not bothered by the temporary discomfort.
When is the right time to start?
According to Dr. Li, studies have also shown that the earlier a child gets allergy shots the better chance she has of not becoming allergic to other allergens later on. Other benefits of allergy shots include reducing the burden of taking daily medicines and saving money on buying over-the-counter medicines throughout the year.
If you’re like some parents who are waiting for their kids to just outgrow allergies to avoid medicines and shots altogether, think again.
“As you get older, your environment changes – schools, homes, backyards – and with those things come changes in the allergens in the air you breathe and are exposed to,” said Dr. Li. “These environmental factors are more the cause of changes to a person’s tolerance for allergens over time; you don’t outgrow environmental allergies.”
Besides avoidance of an allergen, Dr. Li advises the best way to get your child through allergy season is to get a proper diagnosis before using over-the-counter medicine or allergy shots.