How Can I Help My Child with Allergies?

Allergic rhinitis, also called hay fever, is common and treatable

A girl with allergies sneezes.

Allergic rhinitis, also called hay fever, is common and treatable

After a wet winter, spring is in full bloom and so are allergens. For children with environmental allergies, that may mean itchy noses, watery eyes, congestion and other allergy symptoms. These are symptoms of seasonal allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever or seasonal allergies.

Allergic rhinitis in children is very common. One in five children in the United States had a seasonal allergy in 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Symptoms of allergic rhinitis are triggered by allergens, including pollen, mold or dust that enter the body through the nose or mouth.

Your child’s pediatrician can diagnose the condition during a physical exam. Medical tests can identify the allergens causing symptoms. Allergy medications can improve symptoms.

Who is at risk?

Most people with allergic rhinitis develop symptoms in childhood or young adulthood. Those who have other allergic conditions, such as eczema and asthma, are more likely to also have allergic rhinitis.

“Often, allergies, asthma and eczema are interrelated and can run in families,” said Shaun Berger, MD, a pediatrician with Scripps Clinic Rancho San Diego. “You want to control your asthma and allergies, so they don’t control you.”

Seasonal vs year-round allergies

While spring may be a prime time for allergens to bloom, many people experience nasal allergies year-round. Allergens in San Diego, for example, are in the air constantly. Hot, dry Santa Ana winds that occur during the cool season months cause pollens to surge.

“Airborne or environmental allergens are the most common type of allergen in San Diego,” said Jenny Davis, MD, a pediatrician with Scripps Clinic Rancho Bernardo. “Common examples include pollen from grasses, trees and shrubbery, as well as dust mites, mold spores and animal dander.”

Treating allergic rhinitis

Allergy treatments depend on your child’s symptoms, age and general health. Treatment options may include:

  • Antihistamines
  • Nasal sprays
  • Decongestants
  • Medicines for asthma symptoms
  • Allergy shots

A saline nasal rinse can be used daily to rinse nasal passages and flush out allergens. Nasal rinses should not be done on infants or children under 2 years old.

If you mix your own saline solution, use distilled or filtered water or water, not tap water. Pre-mixed saline nasal packets are also available.

At home treatments

One way to reduce exposure to allergens is to avoid being outdoors on windy days.

You can also take preventive measures at home. Dust mites can infest pillows, mattresses and bedding. So, it can help to wash bedding weekly in hot water and get dust mite-proof encasements for mattress and pillows. Stuffed animals are another dust mite magnet. Wash them in hot water or put in the dryer for 30 minutes once a week.

What can happen if not treated

Without treatment, allergies can lead to other health problems. Chronic nasal congestion can make it difficult to breathe and affect sleep quality.

Tired kids may be more irritable and less attentive in school. Nasal allergies may also trigger attacks in children with asthma. Fluid build-up in the ears can cause stubborn ear infections, decreased hearing, slowed speech development or language delays.

When to see your doctor

If you suspect your child has allergies, your pediatrician can identify triggers and recommend a treatment plan. If kids must be outdoors for sports or other activities, for example, medications may be needed.

“A lot of school-age kids are on outdoor sports teams and are allergic to grass or pollens," said Matilda Remba, MD, a pediatrician with Scripps Clinic Mission Valley. “In that case, it can be helpful to use medications such as antihistamines before exposure. Talk to your pediatrician before using any medications, including over the counter, to make sure you’re using the right medications for your child.”

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