Having allergies is a challenge for even the most responsible adults. There are medications to stay on top of, triggers to try to avoid and symptoms to manage on a regular basis. But when children have allergies, management can be especially difficult.
"A child's allergies can present a unique set of challenges for any parent," allergist Dr. Tania Elliott tells Yahoo Life. After all, you're trying to stay on top of symptoms that aren't yours in someone who may not have the right language or awareness to convey to you just how they're feeling. Couple that with reports we're dealing with the earliest spring in parts of the U.S. in the past four decades, and allergies in children are a lot for parents to deal with — especially this year.
Still, there are a few things you can do to manage allergies in your child, whether you're focused on prevention at this point or are already dealing with symptoms. Consider these as you formulate an allergy plan.
1. There are a few things you can do to lower your child's risk of developing allergies in the first year of life.
It's important to couch this by saying that you're doing your best, and some things can't be helped. But Elliott says there is a chance you can potentially reduce your child's chance of developing allergies by doing these three things, provided they fit into your lifestyle:
Try having a pet.
Research has shown that having a cat or dog in the home in the first 12 months of life can actually reduce the risk of developing allergies. Obviously, you don't want to get a pet purely because it may lower the odds of developing allergies. But if you've been considering adding a furry friend to the mix or already have a pet, it's good to know that it could actually help your child's allergy risk.
Avoid unnecessary antibiotic use.
Children get sick, and sometimes they need antibiotics to feel better. But antibiotics are generally overprescribed in the U.S. If your child doesn't need them or your pediatrician is hesitant to prescribe them, Elliott says it's best to avoid their use. "You want to try to avoid exposure to antibiotics in the first 12 months," she says. After all, a 2019 study published in JAMA Pediatrics found that infants who were given antibiotics, including penicillin, cephalosporin, sulfonamide or macrolide, had a higher likelihood of developing food allergies, asthma or dermatitis. Again, if your child has an infection and needs antibiotics, listen to your doctor's advice. But if your doctor thinks they're unnecessary, it's best to avoid them.
Consider country life.
If you're weighing a move, consider this, according to Elliott: "Studies have shown that, if you live on a farm, you can actually reduce your chances of developing allergies in later childhood and even into adulthood." Of course, you shouldn't move simply because you're concerned about your child's allergy risk. But if a move to a more rural area is already being discussed, it's worth considering.
2. Is it allergies or a cold?
Most children will have six to eight colds a year, making a stuffy nose and cough a relatively common childhood occurrence. But it's understandable to at least wonder if your child's symptoms could be caused by allergies. Elliott recommends considering these factors:
When did the symptoms start? Look for a pattern. "If they occur every single spring around the same time, then the likelihood is it's allergies," Elliott says.
How long do symptoms last? Colds typically last less than 10 days, Elliott says; allergies will last several weeks to months.
What other symptoms does your child have? "A really important point about allergies — they never cause a fever, and they don't cause swollen lymph nodes," Elliott says. "So if your child is experiencing those symptoms, the likelihood is it's not allergies, and it's probably an infection."
3. What to do if your child has allergies
Allergies happen in children, and there are a few important steps to take if you suspect your child has allergies.
Get tested. "Number one is figuring out what they're allergic to — you can do that by getting an allergy test," Elliott says. That can be via a skin test conducted at an allergist's office or blood tests.
Try to avoid triggers. This can be easier said than done, but, if possible, Elliott recommends doing what you can to help your child avoid their allergen. That can mean keeping the air conditioning on and your windows closed if your child is allergic to pollen, along with having them take off their shoes and change their clothes when they get home. "We want to make sure that we reduce the chances of pollen getting into the home, and then keep the indoor air clean with an air filter," Elliott says.
Talk to your doctor about treatment options. There are medical and nonmedical therapies that may help your child, Elliott says. "Nonmedical options are things like a neti pot or nasal saline, just to flush out the nasal passages," she says. (But read the manufacturer instructions carefully before use, and make sure to always use distilled, sterile or previously boiled water.) "There are some over-the-counter options like antihistamines, which help too," Elliott says. "But it's always important to talk with your doctor first."
If you suspect your child has seasonal allergies, talk to a pediatrician, who can offer recommendations on next steps to help you get answers — and a solution.