Spring allergies

With spring here, parents have been itching to ask me how they can tell the difference between an allergy and a cold — so here goes:

Forty to 50 million Americans are affected by allergic diseases.

Most children with colds and allergies will have noses that run. Children with allergies, which are really reactions to an overactive or triggered immune system, will do a lot more sniffling and sneezing.

They may also do a lot of itching, along with having more watery eyes with dark circles from rubbing them so much due to allergic irritation.

Colds are caused by germs called viruses.

Allergies represent the body reacting to an environmental trigger.

¯ Environmental triggers include pollen from grass, ragweed and trees, mold, dust mites, animal dander and even foods and medications.

¯ Any of these triggers can cause a release of chemicals including one called histamine that results in the allergic symptoms typical of an overactive immune system described above.

Colds are most common in the fall and winter and last seven to 10 days.

Allergies occur during the spring, summer, and early autumn and can last for weeks or even months.

¯ If you think your child has an allergy, speak with your child’s health care professional. They may help make the diagnosis or may refer your child to a pediatric allergy specialist who can do some further skin and blood tests to confirm the diagnosis of an allergy and what’s causing it.

¯ Remember that the best treatment may be to identify the irritant and remove it as much as possible from the home environment.

¯ For example, air conditioning or at least keeping windows closed will reduce pollen counts in the home and decrease the growth of molds and dust mites.

Your child’s health care professional or the allergy specialist may recommend a medication.

¯ This could be an antihistamine or a nasal spray steroid that can usually help treat the problem. If not, other allergy treatments may be recommended.

Hopefully, you’ll find tips like these will put you in the nose or in the know when it comes to knowing when your child has an allergy rather than a pesky cold.

— — —

Lewis First, MD, is chief of pediatrics at University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and NBC5.


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