Here’s what a top doctor says you need to know

Allergies are a challenge even for the most responsible adults. There are medications to monitor, triggers to try to avoid, and symptoms to manage regularly. But when children have allergies, treatment can be especially difficult.

Spring is coming early this year to many parts of the United States. Here’s how you can help your child cope with allergies. (Getty Images)

“A child’s allergies can present a unique challenge for any parent,” allergist Dr. Tania Elliot tells Yahoo Life. After all, you’re trying to keep up with symptoms that aren’t yours, who may not have the proper language or awareness to tell you how they feel. Combine that with reports that we’re dealing with the earliest spring in parts of the US in four decades, and children’s allergies are a lot for parents to deal with — especially this year.

Still, there are a few things you can do to help manage allergies in your child, whether you’re focused on prevention at this point or already dealing with symptoms. Consider these when creating an allergy plan.

1. There are a few things you can do to reduce your child’s risk of developing allergies in the first year of life.

A toddler is lying very close to a small dog, suggesting that early exposure to pets helps prevent the development of allergies.

Dr. Tania Elliot suggests three things to consider in your child’s first year when it comes to allergies: exposure to pets, reducing antibiotics and living in the country. (Getty Images)

It is important to express this by saying that you are doing the best you can, and some things cannot be helped. But Elliot says you can potentially reduce your child’s chance of developing allergies by doing these three things, if they fit into your lifestyle:

Try taking a pet.

Studies have shown that keeping a cat or dog at home for the first 12 months can actually reduce the risk of developing allergies. Obviously, you don’t want to get a pet just because it might make you less likely to develop allergies. But if you’ve been thinking about adding a furry friend to the mix, or already have a pet, it’s good to know that it can actually help your child’s allergy risk.

Avoid unnecessary use of antibiotics.

Children get sick, and sometimes they need antibiotics to get better. But antibiotics tend to be overprescribed in the U.S. If your child doesn’t need them or your pediatrician is hesitant to prescribe them, Elliot says it’s best to avoid them. “You want to try to avoid exposure to antibiotics for the first 12 months,” he says. After all, a study published in 2019 JAMA Pediatrics found that infants given antibiotics including penicillin, cephalosporin, sulfonamide, or macrolide were more likely to develop 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.

Think country life.

If you’re considering 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 adulthood.” Of course, you shouldn’t move just because you’re worried about your child’s allergy risk. But if moving to a more rural area has already been discussed, it’s worth considering.

2. Is it an allergy or a cold?

The mother on the phone feels the forehead of her child who seems to have a cold or allergy.

According to Dr. Tania Elliot, there are a few key ways to tell if your child has allergies or a cold. (Getty Images)

Most children get six to eight colds a year, making stuffy noses and coughs relatively common in childhood. But it is understandable to at least consider whether your child’s symptoms could be caused by allergies. Elliot recommends considering these factors:

  • When did the symptoms start? Find a model. “If they occur at the same time every spring, chances are it’s allergies,” says Elliot.

  • How long do the symptoms last? A cold typically lasts less than 10 days, says Elliot; allergies last from several weeks to months.

  • What other symptoms does your child have? “The really important thing about allergies — they never cause a fever, and they don’t cause swollen lymph nodes,” Elliot says. “So if your child is experiencing these symptoms, chances are it’s not an allergy, it’s probably an infection.”

3. What to do if your child has allergies

The allergist tests the child for allergies through his forearm.

Consider testing your child if you suspect allergies. (Getty Images)

Allergies happen in children and there are a few important steps to take if you suspect your child has allergies.

  • Test. “Number one is finding out what they’re allergic to — you can do that by doing an allergy test,” Elliot says. It can be done with a skin test at the allergist’s office or with blood tests.

  • Try to avoid triggers. This is easier said than done, but if possible, Elliot recommends doing everything you can to help your child avoid their allergen. This may mean keeping the air conditioning on and the windows closed if your child is allergic to pollen, and having to take off their shoes and change clothes when they get home. “We want to make sure we’re reducing pollen entering the home and keeping the indoor air clean with an air filter,” Elliot says.

  • Talk to your doctor about treatment options. There are medical and non-medical treatments that can help your child, says Elliot. “Non-medicinal options are things like a neti pot or nasal saline, just to flush the nasal passages,” she says. (But read the manufacturer’s directions carefully before use, and make sure you always use distilled, sterile, or previously boiled water.) “There are some over-the-counter options, like antihistamines, that also help,” Elliot says. “But it’s always important to talk to your doctor first.”

If you suspect your child has seasonal allergies, talk to a pediatrician who can recommend next steps to help you find answers—and a solution.

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