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Treating seasonal allergies in kids and toddlers

As any parent or elementary school teacher will tell you, kids get sick…a lot. It can seem like they are always coughing, sneezing, or wiping a runny nose. It’s easy to write these symptoms off as the latest virus going around at daycare or in class. However, sometimes they are a sign of a more pervasive problem. Seasonal allergies in kids and toddlers often look like the common cold, but won’t go away without treatment. Just make sure to take these special considerations into account.

What are seasonal allergies?

Seasonal allergies, sometimes called hay fever or seasonal allergic rhinitis, are symptoms that happen around the same time of year every year, usually in response to environmental allergens. When you have an allergy to spores or pollen released by plants, your body releases things like histamines in response to these allergens. This causes the itching, coughing, and congestion that are associated with seasonal allergies. If you or your child experience these symptoms, you are not alone: Hay fever affects approximately 7.7% of adults in the U.S. and 7.2% of children

Seasonal allergy symptoms in toddlers and children

Symptoms of seasonal allergies in children can include any combination of the following: 

  • Scratchy throat
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Runny or itchy nose
  • Red, irritated eyes
  • Wheezing or trouble breathing (less common)

If your child is struggling to take a full breath, develops a rash, swelling, or fever, seek medical help immediately. These could be signs of a severe allergic reaction.

“Symptoms of seasonal allergies can affect various organ systems,” explains Salma Elfaki, MD, Board Certified Pediatrician at Lake Nona Pediatric Center. “Some children can have [a] runny nose, cough, itchy nose. Some patients can also develop itchiness and redness and watery discharge from [their] eyes.” 

These are fairly common symptoms of allergies, but some children will have a more acute reaction. “More severe allergies can cause wheezing and worsening of asthma,” Dr. Elfaki says. “Some children can also develop skin reactions such as eczema or break out in hives (urticaria) which can be mild or very severe.”

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Diagnosing seasonal allergies in kids

How do you know if your child has seasonal allergies? It’s best to visit your child’s pediatrician rather than self-diagnosing and risking treating your child with the wrong medication. When diagnosing allergies, your child’s healthcare provider will take several factors into consideration:

  • Age
  • Severity and frequency of symptoms
  • Impact of symptoms on daily functioning 
  • Family history
  • Past medical history 
  • Previous treatment

Your child’s pediatrician may suggest allergy testing if your child experiences these symptoms regularly at certain times of year. Allergy testing is usually performed by applying allergens to the skin or by running blood tests. 

RELATED: When to allergy test your child

Seasonal allergy relief: Treatments and remedies 

“There is treatment available that can help children feel better,” says Kathleen Dass, MD, physician and CEO of the Michigan Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology Center. 

There are three main types of over-the-counter allergy treatment for children:

  1. Oral antihistamines, such as Children’s Allegra (fexofenadine), Children’s Claritin (loratadine), and Children’s Zyrtec (cetirizine)
  2. Steroid nasal sprays, like Children’s Flonase (fluticasone) and Children’s Nasacort
  3. Decongestants, such as Children’s Sudafed (pseudoephedrine) 

“Infants, toddlers, and younger children have a hard time tolerating a nasal spray so it is better to use oral antihistamines, like Allegra, Zyrtec, [or] Claritin (which come in chewable and liquid forms),” Dr. Dass says. 

“When children are old enough, an intranasal steroid is standard of care to help treat and prevent seasonal allergies,” explains Dr. Dass.

Just be sure that you are using the version formulated for children, and the appropriate dosage for your child’s age. While certain allergy medicines can mix safely with asthma medications, such as Singulair, it’s dangerous to double up on antihistamines if the first one you try doesn’t relieve symptoms. You should always consult with a pediatrician before using OTC medications for your child.

RELATED: Mixing allergy medication

For severe allergies, “allergy shots are helpful and can help you outgrow the allergies,” explains Dr. Dass. “We usually do not start allergy shots until the child is at least 5 or 6 years old to help prevent allergies. Further, by controlling allergies, you could potentially help your child’s eczema and help prevent asthma from developing.”

The following dosage chart is based on the manufacturer’s instructions:

Children under 2 Children 2-6 Children 6-12
Children’s Allegra (30 mg/5 ml) Ask a doctor 5 mL every 12 hours; no more than 10 mL in 24 hours 5 mL every 12 hours; no more than 10 mL in 24 hours
Children’s Claritin (5 mg/5 ml)  Ask a doctor 5 mL; no more than 5 mL in 24 hours 10 mL; no more than 10 mL in 24 hours
Children’s Zyrtec (5 mg/5 ml) Ask a doctor 2.5 mL every 12 hours; no more than 5 mL in 24 hours 5-10 mL; no more than 10 mL in 24 hours
Children’s Nasacort Do not use 1 spray per nostril daily 1-2 sprays per nostril daily
Children’s Sudafed

(15 mg/5 mL)

Do not use Children under 4 should not use. Children 4-5 can take 5 mL every 4 hours; no more than 4 times a day 10 mL every 4 hours; no more than 4 times a day

The best way to stop seasonal allergies in kids is to prevent symptoms before they start. When the pollens your child reacts to are high, make sure to close windows and keep kids indoors when possible. A HEPA filter can help reduce allergens within your home, and natural remedies like a neti pot or cold compress can make symptoms more bearable.

If your child suffers from seasonal allergies, it’s important to communicate with your doctor to determine the best course of treatment. With the right medication and preventative measures, you kids can spend more time playing, and less time stuck inside.