“A child’s allergies can present a unique set of challenges for each parent,” allergist Dr. Tania Elliott tells Yahoo Life. After all, you are trying to keep track of the symptoms that are not yours with someone who may not have the right language or awareness to convey to you how they feel. Couple that with reports we’re dealing with the earliest spring in parts of the U.S. in the last four decades, and childhood allergies 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 or are already dealing with symptoms. Consider these as you create 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.
It’s important to articulate this by saying that you’re doing your best, and some things can’t be fixed. But Elliott says there’s a chance you may be able to reduce your child’s chance of developing allergies by doing these three things, provided they fit into your lifestyle:
Try to have 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 can reduce the chances of developing allergies. But if you’re considering 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 need antibiotics to feel better. But antibiotics are generally overprescribed in the US. If your child doesn’t need them or your pediatrician is hesitant to prescribe them, Elliott says it’s best to avoid using them. “You want to try to avoid antibiotic exposure in the first 12 months,” she says. A 2019 study published in 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 living on a farm can reduce your chances of developing allergies in later childhood and even adulthood.” Of course, you shouldn’t move 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 an allergy or a cold?
Most children will have a cold six to eight times a year, making nasal congestion and coughing relatively common in childhood. 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 happen around the same time every spring, chances are they’re allergies,” says Elliott.
How long do the symptoms last? Colds usually last less than 10 days, says Elliott; allergies will last for several weeks to months.
What other symptoms does your child have? “A really important point about allergies — they never cause a fever and don’t cause swollen lymph nodes,” says Elliott. “So if your child is experiencing these symptoms, chances are it’s not allergies and probably an infection.”
3. What to do if your child is allergic
Allergies are common in children and there are a few important steps to take if you suspect your child is allergic.
Get tested. “Number one is figuring out what they’re allergic to — you can do that by taking an allergy test,” says Elliott. This can be done through a skin test performed at an allergist’s office or blood tests.
Try to avoid stimuli. This may be easier said than done, but Elliott recommends doing what you can, if possible, to help your child avoid his allergen. That could mean leaving the air conditioning on and keeping your windows closed if your child is allergic to pollen, and having them take off their shoes and change when they get home. “We want to make sure we reduce the chance of pollen entering the house and then keep the indoor air clean with an air filter,” says Elliott.
Talk to your doctor about treatment options. There are medical and nonmedical therapies that can help your child, says Elliott. “Non-medical options are things like a neti pot or nasal saline, just to flush out the nasal passages,” she says. (However, read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully before use, and be sure to always use distilled, sterile, or previously boiled water.) “There are some over-the-counter options, such as antihistamines, that also help,” says Elliott. “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 get answers — and a solution.