Achoo! Seasonal Allergy Advice – S2 E3
Allergy season is here, signaling the return of runny noses, sneezing, and other uncomfortable allergy symptoms. If your child experiences these symptoms, don’t worry! We have tips for you on how to understand, treat, and overcome your child’s stubborn seasonal allergies.
Dr. Dave Stukus is pediatrician who specializes in allergies, and he joins this episode to explain the difference between allergies and a cold, how parents can keep pollen and allergens out of their homes and debunks the common “eat local honey” myth.
Podcast Resources:Guest: Dr. Dave Stukus, Social Media Medical Editor, American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI)
7 tips on how to treat your child’s allergies
Learn more about allergies
Strong Families AZ
Host: Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez
Host: Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez is the Program Director for the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program at the Arizona Department of Health Services.
Guest: Dr. Dave Stukus, Social Media Medical Editor, American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.
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Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: [00:00:00] Welcome to The Parenting Brief. I’m your host, Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez, an Arizona working mom and Program Director for the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program at the Arizona Department of Health Services. Here, you’ll find the answers to some of your biggest parenting questions. With the help of experts, we cover everything you need to know about breastfeeding, tummy time, safe sleep, and so much more.
Thank you for joining us for another episode of The Parenting Brief. Itchy eyes, runny noses and sneezing are no fun. And with allergy season in full swing, your little one might experience many of these common symptoms. Springtime brings lots of pollen from mulberry trees, mesquite ragweed, and many other trees, plants, and environmental factors.
And [00:01:00] while some children might experience mild symptoms that go away over time, others can get extremely sick. How can you tell a mild case from a serious one? When should you consult your doctor, and how do you keep your kids healthy while enjoying the outdoor. We’ve recruited a pediatrician who’s an allergy expert to answer those questions and more.
Today we’re joined by Dr. Dave Stukus. He’s a fellow of the American Academy of Allergy, Ashma, and Immunology. Thanks for joining us today, Dr. Stukus.
Dr. Stukus: It’s my pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me.
Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: Let’s start with some of the symptoms of allergies. Running nose, itchy eyes, sneezing. A lot of it sounds similar to a cold.
How can parents tell the difference between a common cold and seasonal allergies?
Dr. Stukus: That’s the best question to start with thank you for asking. There is so much overlap between the symptoms that can occur from respiratory and nasal allergies with the common cold and [00:02:00] other common conditions that can cause the same symptoms.
So the first thing to really think about is how long are symptoms present for. If there are seasonal allergies or things like pollen that’s outside causing the symptoms, generally, those symptoms should be there for, you know, weeks to months on end, whereas a viral infection or a cold is only going to last about 10 to 14 days.
The second part of it would be what are the symptoms? With allergies you get tons of itching, itch, itch, itch, because histamine is one of the chemicals that gets released. Whereas you really don’t have that much itching when it comes to colds. And then of course, if there’s fever present, or if the color of the snot changes, so allergies will cause clear mucus, whereas if you have yellow or green mucus, that would be more indicative of having a viral infection or a cold. So there’s a couple of little clues that can help out, but ultimately if you have concerns about it, allergists are readily available and happy to help clarify through taking a detailed history, performing an exam and doing testing whenever it’s indicated.
Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: And how soon can some of those testing take place? How young can allergy testing take place?
[00:03:00] Dr. Stukus: There really is no age barrier. This is a common misconception. Allergy tests are often negative in young infants or children less than 12 months of age. Not because they aren’t reliable. It’s just because there are other causes that aren’t due to allergy as to why they have symptoms.
So we typically don’t see children develop year round allergy symptoms until they’re about 12 to 15 months of age at the earliest. And that would be for things like dust mites or pet dander from cats or dogs. And then for seasonal allergies to things like tree pollen, grass pollen, weeds, and ragweed, we don’t typically see that develop until children are at least three or four years of age because they have to be exposed for a couple of seasons. So we can test it any age but oftentimes there are other reasons why those symptoms are present when they’re very young.
Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: Is it true that if you like consume local honey, that your allergies will be lessened?
Dr. Stukus: It is not , that’s a great question and common misconception. Quick answer, the pollen that causes allergy symptoms is very small and wind born.
So that comes from things like trees and grasses and weeds. Whereas the pollen in flowers that honeybees collect is very heavy. So [00:04:00] the pollen from flowers actually doesn’t cause allergy symptoms at all. So not only is it the wrong pollen that bees are collecting but, you know, if you actually were to eat a mouthful of pollen that caused your allergies, you wouldn’t be cured of your allergies, you’d have an allergic reaction inside your mouth, which also isn’t happening. So it’s just a huge myth that’s often used to help sell honey.
Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: That is super fascinating. I totally anticipated that answer to be the other way around.
Dr. Stukus: Oh no, no, I mean, now honey can soothe a sore throat. So if you have a lot of postnasal drip and a dry throat, it can actually be quite soothing for that, but we always want to make sure we don’t give any honey to children less than 12 months of age.
Do the risk for something called botulism.
Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: Do you have any tips for parents on how to fight those stubborn allergy symptoms? Especially in those little ones who may not be old enough to take an allergy medication.
Dr. Stukus: The allergy medications that we use most frequently are very safe to use in young children. And there’s two main classes.
The medicine we often give by mouth or things called anti-histamines. We want to skip those old first-generation [00:05:00] anti- histamines that have lots of side effects like drowsiness. This would be like Benadryl. We don’t need to use that. We have much better alternatives available. Anti-histamines that last, a lot longer,
don’t have the same side effects and they don’t cause sedation and drowsiness and things like that. Those types of medicines are really only helpful for symptoms such as itching and sneezing. They will not be very effective for stuffy noses runny noses. But we have nose sprays, particularly nasal steroid sprays.
And if we use these on a daily basis consistently over time, those are the most effective therapy for all nasal symptoms that you can imagine, including itching, sneezing, runny nose, and stuffy nose as well. And then of course, we can always use an all natural treatment, like a nasal saline spray, just some salt water inside the nose can be very soothing for irritated nasal passageways and help clear out some of that mucus for those tiny noses, little ones can have.
Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: So being outside during peak allergy season can aggravate those symptoms due to those allergens that are in the air. However, it can also get into our homes. Is there anything that parents can do to [00:06:00] keep the air clean and allergens out?
Dr. Stukus: It starts with knowing what you or your child are allergic to.
So that’s where allergy testing can come into play because, you know, if you don’t really know what’s causing symptoms or what pollen to worry about, then you won’t know what season of the year to worry about. And typically trees will pollinate in the spring and then we’ll see grasses and weeds pollinate in the summer and ragweed will pollinate them in the autumn with mold spores sort of floating around throughout the year and damp rainy weather. So if somebody puts measures in place all year round, but they’re only allergic to ragweed in the fall, that’s really a lot of wasted effort. But we do recommend for those with outdoor pollen allergies to treat your home like a fortress, like a pollen fortress.
So leave all the pollen outside. And how do we do that? Well, one way is we keep all the windows closed at all times. We don’t want to even crack the windows on nice days because the pollen can sneak in and we want to give ourselves a break when you’re inside the home, especially when in the bedroom where you spend eight to 10 hours every night.
We don’t want to be continually breathing in that pollen. Another couple of easy things that people can do is once you spend time outdoors, change your [00:07:00] clothes when you come in, when you’re done for the day and then take a good shower, bath, wash the face, wash the hair, get all the pollen off of your body.
That way you’re not breathing it in all night when you’re trying to sleep.
Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: Sometimes there is a misconception that allergies and seasonal ones in particular are just something that happens and can be pushed through, but that’s not the case for everyone and some children can have more severe allergic reactions than others.
At what point should a parent schedule a visit with the pediatrician to see if there’s a bigger problem?
Dr. Stukus: Oh, I think anytime that your child is suffering and not getting the relief that you want them to get is when you should call their doctor. I’m glad you asked this question. It is well-established,
people may not understand this, but it is very well established that allergies are a major cause of missed work and missed school. When people have poorly controlled allergies, they are miserable. They don’t sleep well at night. They’re not getting that deep sleep that they need to be well rested the next day. And if you have seasonal allergies, especially more than one season, you are miserable for weeks to months throughout the year,
[00:08:00] and you don’t feel well, you have more fatigue during the day. You don’t have the same capacity to exercise, your stress levels go up and it can really negatively impact your life. So if there’s one message that I can send to all your listeners, don’t settle for anything other than well controlled symptoms. I promise you, we can always find a way to help people control their allergy symptoms.
And if you’re not getting the relief you need, that’s where board certified allergists can come into play, that’s why we’re here.
Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: So do you have any final wisdom to help parents of young children get through the allergy season?
Dr. Stukus: Yeah, first and foremost, make sure you have the right diagnosis. So if they really are suffering and if you’re not getting the relief that you need by seeing your pediatrician or trying some of these over the counter treatments, go to the next step, go see a board certified allergist, see if testing is indicated, help them clarify the diagnosis because we really can individualize everything in regards to allergy treatment, including knowing exactly what seasons to worry about, which allergens to worry about and what types of treatment to consider.
[00:09:00] Jessica Stewart-Gonzalez: Need more tips on how to prepare for allergy season? We’ve got you covered. Just head to the episode show notes to learn more. And don’t forget to follow The Parenting Brief podcast on your favorite podcast app. It’s free and you’ll get notified when our next episode goes live. While you’re there, pass the episode along to the parents in your life.
A little help can go a long way. Until next time, this is Jessica. You’ve got this. .