In New York, pollen allergies are among the first indications that winter is coming to a close. This year, I’ve noticed an uptick in complaints of itchy, puffy eyes and tingly sneezing fits even before the daffodils are in bloom. Sometimes called Hay Fever (though this is a misnomer, as the condition involves neither hay nor fever), these springtime allergies can be a deep nuisance –or sometimes worse.
To visualize the culprit, see the image above of a few of the trillions of particles of pollen soon to be blowing around out there. No wonder kids complain with these particles embedded in their noses. And no wonder their noses “want” to sneeze these particles out!
For those fortunate parents of children who do not suffer from seasonal allergies, thank your lucky stars; pollen is the bane of springtime for many people. Allergic rhinitis accounts for two million missed school days in the United States. Forty percent of children and thirty percent of adults suffer from this annual itching-burning-sneezing-watering-tingling plague.
Here are a few tips for caring for your children (and yourselves) in the weeks to come:
Rinsing: Non-medicated drops such as Natural Tears are useful for flushing pollen from the eyes and soothing mild irritation. A stronger formulation that I like is Zaditor, which once required a prescription but is now sold over the counter. Zaditor contains an antihistamine that relieves the itchiness associated with pollen. If you don’t have drops on hand, just flushing the eyes with cool, clean water or holding a damp paper towel to the eyes can be comforting.
Allergic students in my office know to come in and rinse their faces in the sink. Tiny particles of pollen cling to their eyelashes and skin, and a splash of water can be a quick fix. One experienced mom told me that during the peak of the season, she has her son remove all clothing and take a shower every time he comes inside. This prevents him from spreading pollen to his pillow, the sofa upholstery, etc., creating a pollen-free zone in their home. Smart thinking!
Medications: Allergy sufferers have different preferences for oral antihistamines: Allegra, Zyrtec, Claritin, etc.. One point to remember is that it may take a week for these medications to build up to a therapeutic level in the bloodstream, so you might consider taking one preventively every morning during allergy season, rather than just waiting to treat acute symptoms.
Consulting a Doctor: If your child’s reactions to seasonal triggers are more severe—wheezing or shortness of breath, for instance—please consult a doctor, as your child may suffer from allergic asthma, which requires separate treatment and medical supervision. Also, seasonal allergies should not include pain. If your child is complaining of facial pain or headaches, there may be a more significant sinus issue going on, in which case I would advise consulting your doctor.
Hang in there, everyone, and get your tissue boxes ready: it’s going to be a weepy Spring. Please let me know if there’s anything I can do at School to support your families through this beautiful but itchy season. And again, for those unacquainted with this misery, just know that you won a certain lottery in life on this one!