Spring has officially arrived, and so has the onslaught of allergy season. If you're one of the millions of adults who is plagued by seasonal allergies, that's bad enough — but what if your toddler has allergies, too?
It used to be accepted wisdom among doctors that children under the age of 2 couldn't develop allergies because their immune systems were too immature, according to Parents. We know now that that's not true — allergies occur when the immune system recognizes a particular substance as foreign and tries to attack it, and that can happen even with a baby. But seasonal allergies do tend to take a little while to show up, because it takes at least one allergy season for a baby's immune system to learn to be allergic to something, explained Parents.
So, depending on what time of year your baby was born, you probably won't notice seasonal allergies crop up until they're at least 12 to 15 months old. And it may take even longer: What to Expect reported that most cases of seasonal allergies don't appear until kids start school.
But you could be seeing evidence of allergies much earlier than that, so if you're concerned, Parents recommended keeping a diary of the symptoms, noting what they are, when they're triggered, and what seems to trigger them. That way you can let your child's doctor know whether there's a pattern; give them a sense for whether the symptoms are, in fact, seasonal; and whether they're worse during the day or at night.
But resist the urge to diagnose and medicate your child yourself. While there are plenty of effective over-the-counter medications, you'll want to speak first to your child's doctor, who may recommend antihistamines, a nasal steroid spray, or something completely different, explained WebMD. Fortunately, many of the latest allergy medications have fewer side effects than previous generations of drugs.
If your toddler's allergies are really severe, they may be able to get allergy shots at some point in the future, but an allergist typically won't recommend that until they're four to six years old, explained Baby Center. Allergy shots work by giving your child's body a tiny amount of the allergen in order to train their immune system to build up a tolerance. If the shots seem to be working well over the course of several months, your child may continue getting them for years to come, Baby Center explained.
So as allergy season descends upon us, here are some signs that suggest your toddler has seasonal allergies.
1. They sneeze a lot
Sneezing is a common cold symptom, but if it persists for a long time, or if your child doesn't have other typical cold symptoms, you may want to consider whether they're suffering from a bout of seasonal allergies.
2. They always seem to have a cold
One of the biggest signs of a seasonal nasal allergy is that your toddler seems to have a perpetual cold. Baby Center pointed out that colds typically last for seven to 10 days, so if the cold-like symptoms are lasting much longer than that, it could be allergies.
3. They have a persistent dry cough
The coughing that comes from a cold usually produces mucus or phlegm, while the coughing that comes from allergies is dry and lasts longer than a cold would — at least three weeks, according to the ACAAI.
4. Their nose is always stuffy or runny
Allergies are the most common cause of a chronic stuffy nose among children, according to the ACAAI. So be aware of whether this is a persistent problem with your toddler, and also track what the mucus looks like: If it's clear and thin (rather than yellow or greenish and thick), it's more likely to be allergies than a cold, as described by Baby Center. Another sign to watch out for: your child is constantly wiggling, wiping, or pushing up their nose.
5. Their eyes are itchy, red, and watery
Itchy, red, watery eyes are one symptom of seasonal allergies (and if there's a thick discharge, it's probably an infection), explained Cleveland Clinic. Another is what doctors call "allergic shiners" — when the skin under your toddler's eyes looks dark, purple, or blue.
6. They breathe through their mouth
If your toddler's nose is seriously congested, they might resort to breathing through their mouth, especially while sleeping, according to the ACAAI. As a result, they might not sleep very well, and you may notice that they're overly tired during the day. In the long-term, warned the ACAAI, this can affect the way your child's teeth and facial bones grow, so it's important to be aware of this symptom and get any potential allergies treated early.
7. They get ear infections
While ear infections aren't a direct symptom of allergies, allergies do lead to inflammation of the middle ear, which can then lead to an ear infection, explained the Allergy, Asthma, And Sinus Center. Not only is that unpleasant for your toddler — an infection causes that feeling you get when you need to pop your ears — but it also decreases their ability to hear, and that can in turn affect the development of their speaking skills. "Middle ear infections, called otitis media or OM, occur commonly in early childhood and are a frequent reason for antibiotic treatment and missed school days," explained the Allergy, Asthma, and Sinus Center. "Allergies are a well recognized cause for recurrent OM and kids who have more than their share of middle ear infections should be allergy tested."
8. You have seasonal allergies
If you have seasonal allergies yourself, there's a decent chance your kid has them, too — a 25 percent chance, to be exact. And if both parents have allergies, odds are at least 50/50 that your toddler has them, according to What to Expect. That might not mean your child ends up with exactly the same allergies that you have, but similar allergies do run in families, as Today's Parent reported. The best solution is to get to an allergist, who can test your toddler to find out if — and to what — they're allergic.
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