After a long winter of being cooped up in the house, parents are practically giddy over the arrival of spring. Not only can your stir crazy kids finally get back to the playground, but the sniffles and sneezing of cold and flu season are behind you at last. Or are they? Unfortunately, for the millions of people who suffer from seasonal allergies, the worst sniffles and sneezing of the year are still to come. But how can you tell if your child is allergic to pollen and not just coming down with something?
Pollen is one of the most common triggers of seasonal allergies, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, and pollen allergy is also known as "hay fever" (though experts call it "seasonal allergic rhinitis"). The majority of pollens that cause allergies come from trees, weeds and grasses, particularly ragweed, sagebrush, pigweed, lamb's quarters and tumbleweed; the most problematic trees for those with pollen allergies include birch, cedar, and oak. Interestingly, roses and some flowering trees (such as cherry and pear trees) don't usually cause allergic reactions because they're fertilized by insects instead of wind-borne pollen grains, according to the AAFA.
Once you've figured out that your child has a pollen allergy, you can decide on a treatment plan with your doctor's help (options include over-the-counter antihistamines, shots, and prescription meds). Seasonal allergies are definitely a bummer, but they can be managed. Here are the symptoms to watch for if you suspect your child is allergic to pollen.
1. Nasal Congestion
After months of cold-related stuffy noses, it can be tough to tell if your kid's constant sniffling is due to an allergy or illness. One way to tell, according to BabyCenter, is the color of her mucus: If it's clear and thin instead of yellow or green and thick, there's a good chance pollen is to blame.
Another telltale sign that your kid's stuffy nose is of the allergic variety: what doctors call the "allergic salute," which is described as a "habitual manipulation of the nose, due to chronic obstruction and itching" by the Journal of the American Medical Association. (Or, in other words, that thing where your kid keeps pushing up her nose with the palm of her hand all the time.)
2. Dark Circles Under The Eyes
If your kid comes home from school looking like he got into a scuffle at recess, those seemingly black eyes could actually be what's known as "allergic shiners" according to the American College of Asthma, Allergy and Immunology. They look pretty much exactly like the result of a good punch, but are caused by "swelling and discoloration from congestion of small blood vessels beneath the skin" in the area under the eyes.
3. Frequent Sneezing
Sure, kids can sneeze a bunch when they're sick, too, but if your child's sneezing goes on for more than two weeks or symptoms get worse at certain times of the day, "it’s consistent with allergies,” pediatric allergist Marc McMorris, M.D. told WebMD.
“I always try to relate it to what kids are doing," he added. So if sneeze attacks hit when your kid is playing outside, for example, that's a major red flag.
4. Coughing and/or Wheezing
Of particular concern to parents of kids with respiratory issues, "pollen can also aggravate asthma symptoms, including increased coughing and wheezing," according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. (With all that postnasal drip, it's no wonder kids cough more.)
5. Red, Itchy, Watery Eyes
A classic (and obvious) sign that allergies are a culprit: Your kid is constantly rubbing his eyes, which makes the irritation worse, which makes him rub them even more. But how can you tell if those eyes are pink from allergies or, well, actual pink eye (as in, the kind caused by a virus or bacterial infection)?
“Symptoms can really look the same,” Sunil K. Saini, M.D., a member of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology told Health. “In both conditions you typically are going to have redness in your eye and tearing.”
But while bacterial pink eye, for example, can cause a thick discharge that gets crusty, allergic pink eye is distinguished by eyes that itch, burn, and swell, and there might be a "gritty" feeling, too. Usually other signs of allergies are also present, such as sneezing or a stuffed-up nose.
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