child with seasonal allergies
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Everything Parents Need To Know About Seasonal Allergies

In babies, toddlers, and kids.

Why am I suddenly getting seasonal allergies? Winter is passing and the sun is breaking through at last. You and the kids are so happy to be busting out the shorts and t-shirts. Getting out the door is about to get so much easier. But wait — why is your kid’s nose so runny all the time? Explosions of pollen come hand-in-hand with the long awaited sunshine and flowers of spring, and for many of us that means allergy symptoms galore. But even if you’re a seasoned veteran of allergy season, you may not be as certain about your child’s symptoms — is it allergies or a cold? And if you suspect that your child does have seasonal allergies, what can you do about it?

What are seasonal allergies?

Also called ‘hay fever,’ seasonal allergies are allergic reactions to environmental changes. Most of us know to expect them in the spring time. If there’s a layer of pollen on the windshield, it must be allergy season.

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“When our body sees pollens or molds, it's a lock-and-key to a certain type of cell that releases histamine, explains says Dr. Natasha Burgert, a pediatrician and American Academy of Pediatrics spokesperson. “So, we have to see histamine-mediated symptoms for us to know that they are allergic symptoms.”

When do most people experience seasonal allergies?

“Just like adults, most typically kids experience seasonal allergies in the spring and the fall,” Burgert explains. But exactly what months have seasonal allergies? Well, this varies a bit depending on exactly what you are allergic to — which particular thing triggers your allergies — as well as what the weather is doing, and what starts to bloom when. If you’re a long-time seasonal allergy sufferer, you probably already are well acquainted with allergy forecasts and checking to see exactly which pollen count is high when.

Seasonal allergies: Signs & symptoms in kids and adults

How do you know if you have seasonal allergies? What allergy symptoms are tell-tale? It’s true, seasonal allergies can look a lot like a common cold. “Typical seasonal allergy symptoms include sneezing, a stuffy nose, runny nose or nasal itching,” says Dr. Maureen Bauer, M.D., pediatric allergy and immunology specialist at Children's Hospital Colorado. Particularly if your child is too young to explain the finer points of their symptoms to you, it can be tricky to tell the difference between a kid with seasonal allergies and a kid with a run-of-the-mill cold.

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However, there are ways to tell if it’s time to call the allergist. If you suspect your child may be suffering from seasonal allergies, parents can be on the look out for “red, itchy eyes, itchy skin, watery eyes, watery runny nose — not the thick yellow green stuff that we usually see from colds,” Burgert suggests. “I think of redness and itch when I think of histamine.” She also reminds parents that “seasonal allergies are very genetic.” So, if Mom and Dad have seasonal allergies, likely the kids will develop them, too.

Allergy symptoms in kids will look a lot like seasonal allergy symptoms in adults. Both Bauer and Burgert say to watch for a confluence of the following classic seasonal allergy symptoms:

  • Sneezing
  • Stuffy nose
  • Runny nose
  • Nasal itching
  • Red, itchy eyes
  • Coughing from the postnasal drip
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Seasonal allergy diagnosis: When to see the doctor

There are a few ways to diagnose seasonal allergies in kids. Your first clue that your child is suffering from allergies will probably be that you recognizing something in the timing of their symptoms that syncs up with your own experience of season allergies. Once you suspect that your child has seasonal allergies, what’s next? “The best way to diagnose seasonal allergies is a clinical history that a doctor will take to determine if the symptoms are consistent with seasonal allergies,” Bauer explains. “An allergy & immunology physician may offer skin or blood testing as well.”

While you wait for an official diagnosis from your child’s health care provider, you may want to simply try an over-the-counter allergy medicine and see if your child’s allergy symptoms improve. “That's kind of like the ‘poor man's test,’ if you will, for is this seasonal allergies or not?” Burgert explains. “Although some colds can have some histamine stimulation to them, you’re not going to get a tremendous improvement,” from treating cold symptoms with allergy medication.

Seasonal allergy treatment options for kids

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Once you’re convinced your child has seasonal allergies, you probably want to get them some relief from those annoying symptoms and fast. Thankfully, most of the treatments that Burgert and Bauer suggest to families are easily available over the counter. “The typical first line treatments include nasal steroid sprays and antihistamines,” Bauer says. But, she also reminds families that it’s always smart to check in with your health care provider before giving your child any medication. “Patients should discuss what medications to take with their doctor, as treatment is patient specific.”

Burgert agrees, saying that she usually recommends a nasal steroid spray — many of us know Flonase as a go-to —  or long-acting antihistamine. “We’re always going to try those first, at age-based doses, and see if symptoms improve.”

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Treating seasonal allergies during pregnancy and breastfeeding

Many medications are safe to take while breastfeeding. If you’re suffering from seasonal allergies, ask your health care provider about which medications they recommend. Typically, so-called second generation allergy medications — like Zyrtec or Claritin — are considered a better choice than first generation allergy medications, like Benadryl.

When the flowers bloom and noses start running, thankfully allergy relief should be just about as easy to find as your local dandelion patch. If it’s your child’s first time experiencing seasonal allergies, though, it’s worth reaching out to your family’s pediatrician for guidance about the best medications for your kid, as well as appropriate dosing.


Dr. Maureen Bauer, M.D., pediatric allergy and immunology specialist at Children's Hospital Colorado

Dr. Natasha Burgert, a pediatrician and American Academy of Pediatrics spokesperson.