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It’s Fall: What Can I Expect As Far As My Child’s Allergies?

fall allergies - runny noses and itchy eyesWe are currently in the middle of the allergy season created by ragweed. We had thought we had made it through the spring and summer allergy season with our immune system health in good shape when all of a sudden it seems to return with a vengeance: watery, itchy eyes, constantly clear runny itchy nose, clearing your throat and trying in vain to scratch the back part of your palate with the back of your tongue. Here we are again, but in the spring/ summer seasons this was due to trees and grass. Every season has its own list of usual suspects to create allergy symptoms.

The end of summer and beginning of fall sees the end of the ragweed season and the onset of more indoor things to spark the symptoms of allergy. When families start to close up their homes for the colder weather to come, many allergens are trapped indoors such as molds and dust. Many people are allergic to just these factors, made worse by the onset of school and the ability of children to begin bring home the “bug of the week”. Colds become more frequent and the onset of asthmatic symptoms add to the coughs, runny noses and itchiness, along with such factors as spending more time indoors with your furry pets. The leaves are beginning to fall and the wind is beginning to whip the leaves around and fragment them causing a different kind of dust.

Added to that, as families begin to turn the heat on in their homes, two things happen; all the dust that has collected in the ducts now is blown into the indoor environment to mix with all the other allergens and the indoor air begins to dry out. This potpourri of particles is just about everywhere, just waiting to irritate your respiratory tract if you happen to have allergies.

The symptoms of allergic problems do not necessarily change with the seasons and probably the same medications your Doctor recommended in the Spring will also be effective, but if you have difficulty controlling the problem, get in touch with your healthcare provider – they can help you make sure your children are not bothered with these symptoms in school.

Your Child Has Summer Sniffles …Is It a Cold or Allergy?

child sneezing during the summerSummer time is the time for fun and family enjoyment. The early and late parts of summer are, however, noticeable for stirring up allergic symptoms due to grass and trees in May and June and such plants as ragweed during August and September. Symptoms such as burning, itching eyes and runny, itchy nose with or without cough are typical symptoms of environmental allergies. There is no fever as this is not an infection. Symptoms of a summer cold however can mimic those of allergy, but usually itching is not a major part.

A cold, or upper respiratory infection, is, as the name implies an infection by viral agents that usually invade through mucus membranes (inside of nose, mouth or eyes), set up shop and multiply to some extent. The multiplication is usually self-limited as the body’s natural defense systems go to work. When the defenses are working, there may be fever, achiness, headache and a variety of other minor symptoms. Allergic symptoms do not usually include the systemic symptoms mentioned above.

Unfortunately sometimes, cold and allergy symptoms occur simultaneously, causing some confusion among parents, patients and Doctors in terms of diagnosis. Sometimes, also, it is impossible to tell them apart even to the most trained eye.

The bottom line is even though there may be no telling them apart, there is no cure for the common cold, and the combined symptoms can be treated similarly.

If a child has known environmental allergy, he/she may be treated with an antihistamine such as Benadryl for short term (4 – 6 hrs) or Claritin, Zyrtec, or Allegra for long term (once or twice every 24hrs) for the symptoms; no response may indicate a cold and not allergy, while the concurrent symptoms of fever, achiness, headache and others may strengthen the diagnosis of a cold.

Certainly it is worthwhile to use a humidifier in his or her room to moisten irritated mucous membranes, drink plenty of fluids, and use Tylenol or Advil in the appropriate dosages for poorly tolerated symptoms. Important to note that controlling fever with the use of these medications is not necessary unless your child is very uncomfortable. Using these medications will not get rid of the fever in the long run, but it will make him or her feel more comfortable in the short term. The fever, remember, is there because the body is fighting off the infection and therefore is a relatively good sign in a healthy child. The fever will persist until the cleansing process is finished.

10 Secrets to Helping Your Kids Breathe Better With Allergies

AllergiesWarmer weather triggers trees, flowers and grasses to bloom, beckons kids back outside and sets off seasonal allergy suffering for 40 percent of those kids. Pollens, which have been dormant all winter, are abundant from spring to fall. These irritants gang up with existing indoor allergens (such as dust mites, pet dander and mold) and bully your child’s immune system, causing itchy, watery eyes, runny noses, sniffling, sneezing and coughing.

“While allergens are unavoidable, there are things you can do to reduce your child’s exposure to them,” says Dr. Rebecca Gruchalla, professor of internal medicine and pediatrics at the University of Texas Southwestern Center in Dallas.

Try these tricks for keeping allergens to a minimum:

  1. Make plans based on pollen counts. Plan indoor activities when outdoor pollen counts are highest – every day before 10 a.m., on windy days and after it rains. Check pollen.com for the daily allergy forecast in your area.
  2. Control the spread of allergens. After a day of fun outside, have the kids take showers, wash their hair and put on clean clothes before they’re allowed to play in their rooms. You don’t want them tracking pollen into their bedrooms since allergy symptoms are often worse at night.
  3. Manage indoor air quality. Keep windows closed during pollen season and crank up the air conditioning to help filter the air in your home. An indoor air temperature between 68 F and 72 F inhibits mold and dust mite growth and helps the indoor humidity level stay at an ideal 30 to 40 percent.
  4. Keep bedding healthy. Dress your child’s bed using linens made of cotton or synthetic materials as opposed to bedding filled with feather or down, which can trap moisture and invite dust mites to spread. Dust mites produce a protein that can irritate the nasal passage and cause sneezing and a runny nose. To get rid of them, wash your child’s sheets once a week. Wash the comforter, mattress pad and blankets once a month. And never hang linens or clothes to dry outside, where they can gather pollen.
  5. Clean stuffed animals and toys. Only buy washable stuffed animals and throw them in the laundry with the bedsheets every week. And when they’re not being loved, store stuffed animals — and all toys — in sealed, dust-free plastic containers.
  6. Use allergen-resistant covers. Wrap the mattress, box spring and pillows in allergen-resistant covers to reduce your child’s exposure to dust mites by as much as 80 percent.
  7. Keep floors free of irritants. Vacuum the floors in kids’ rooms twice a week using a cyclonic machine or one outfitted with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter. Keep kids out of the bedroom for at least 30 minutes afterward, since vacuuming kicks up allergen-filled dust that can irritate allergies.
  8. Move moisture out of the bathroom. Bathrooms tend to accumulate water around the shower, tub and sink areas, keeping the room moist and susceptible to mold growth. Control moisture by making sure wet towels and clothes are hanging so they’re able to dry. After showers, allow the curtain or door to air-dry before pulling it closed. And to keep air flowing and remove moisture, leave a fan on after showers and baths.
  9. Prevent pet allergens. Pets produce more allergens than the great outdoors. Don’t let your furry friends into the kids’ rooms. Wash and brush Fido — outside — once a week to decrease the dander inside.
  10. Equip bedroom with a HEPA air filter. If your child has severe allergies, consider putting a HEPA air filter in the bedroom. Check the CADR (Clean Air Delivery Rate) label, which indicates the size of room it’s best for.

Springtime Agonies for “Allergy Kids”

My son HATES spring. It’s absolutely bottom of his favorite season list – despite the Mid-West’s frigid winter temperatures. But he has good reason: seasonal allergies (aka hay fever, nasal allergies, allergic rhinitis, etc); and though the term encompasses all seasons, spring is often one of the worst for allergy sufferers.

Given the terrible winter weather this year, I had begun to think spring would never arrive in our region. But in the past couple of weeks it’s definitely made its presence known: sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes and dark under-eye circles (allergic shiners). If you’ve never had allergies you might think, “so what?” However, for people with serious allergies, these symptoms can become a major issue. The agonies started when our son was a toddler, originally with severe nose bleeds – so bad that the upstairs bathroom looked like a scene from an episode of CSI. It turned out the nosebleeds were triggered by allergies which caused inflammation in his nose. We’ve since had the prick test on his back and he is sensitive to many indoor and outdoor allergens, but spring’s flowering trees and bushes really bring on the agonies.

Unfortunately, the little guy didn’t have much of a chance for an allergy-free life. Both my husband and I have allergies, and since the condition has a genetic component his likelihood of also getting them was greater than 70% (if only one parent has allergies the chances of children also having them are about 1 in 3). And to make matters worse, we compounded his genetic disadvantage by moving into an allergy-prone environment.

All Hail Knoxville, TN

Local allergists told me that we live in a particularly bad area of the US for allergies. The spring flowers and grasses are beautiful but, as my son sees it, they also have an evil side. When I checked into this recently I found that my city actually rates #43 (out of 100) on the list of 2011 Spring Allergy Capitals (see the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America) or about three-quarters of the severity of the #1 city, Knoxville TN. But given the symptoms we still have I’m not sure that gives me much comfort, especially since if I were to drive 115 miles east or south I would hit the #7 and the #2 cities (Dayton, OH and Louisville, KY respectively). I think just being on the list should give pause to any allergy-sufferers considering a move to one of these locations. At least don’t be surprised if your child didn’t have allergy symptoms before but develops them once you move into an area with high pollen levels.

Managing the Multiple Symptoms

Since his diagnosis we’ve been able to mostly stave off the nosebleeds through daily use of allergy medication during the most challenging seasons, along with occasional application of a nasal lubricating cream. But spring allergy symptoms continue to be an issue: frequent sneezing and runny nose; eyes so itchy and swollen he couldn’t see and had to come home from school.

We’ve tried all the major brands of allergy medicine: Claritin, then Zyrtec, and now Allegra. They all seem to work fairly well, though some doctors feel some are more potent than others. Since they didn’t completely manage his symptoms during the peak spring pollen season our pediatrician added Singulair last year, which works differently than the other medicines. I’ve been taking Singulair for my allergies for a few years with good success, so this seemed like a great idea for him. However, everyone responds differently to medications and, unfortunately, my son showed behavior and mood changes after going on this drug. Since these effects had previously been reported with Singulair we decided to take him off it and the changes subsided. As with any medication, just watch your child for any unusual or reported side effects after starting a new medicine. For his eye issues we’ve been using Pataday, which has been excellent. It’s quite expensive but we went with it anyway due to the severity of his symptoms. He was so miserable that he didn’t even resist having drops put in his eyes!

An Ounce of Prevention

Since there’s currently no cure for allergies, experts recommend that we work to limit exposure to problem allergens such as pollen, dust mites or pet dander. The following sites give comprehensive allergen prevention strategies: Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America and AskDrSears. The latter helpfully breaks the strategies down by both convenience and expense.

A number of strategies have worked for us, particularly during springtime:

  • Keeping our 2 dogs confined to the lower floor using an indoor invisible fence pod (plugs into electrical outlet – you can buy from your invisible fence company)
  • Using a portable HEPA air filter in the “dog zone” – and a filter on the central air system
  • Keeping windows and doors closed during high pollen periods
  • Cutting our son’s hair shorter during allergy season – and washing it before going to bed
  • Changing his clothes after coming in from playing outside
  • Having school keep him indoors during recess and after school when symptoms are very bad

The process continues to be a challenge and we probably have to visit the allergist again as he started breaking out in hives on occasion over the past few months, which apparently is often caused by reaction to foods or medication. On to a new chapter in our allergy saga!

What strategies have worked for you in managing your children’s allergies?

The Last Time I Checked My Child’s Allergy Supplies Was…. ???

As summer approaches and families begin making plans for long-postponed vacations, for our family, it means beginning a summer check up for our allergy needs. Especially since vacation time can also make us forget about other details, summer is a yearly reminder to clean out, update and refill.

Inhaler clean-out - smallCleaning Out A few months ago, something prompted me to check my son’s asthma inhaler. Upon examination, I was horrified. At some point, the inhaler must have discharged while it was enclosed in the holder and had “grown new friends”- yuck! Worse yet, I realized that my son had used the inhaler recently (which means all of what was hanging out in his inhaler was also having a party inside of his lungs too). In times of being a normal mom who worries about her son’s asthma, I was fast forwarded into dry-heave mode quickly followed by recycling the old case and getting a brand new one altogether. I sent the stretchy outer case through the washing machine and let it completely air dry.

The food allergy mom in me sent an email to the wonderful people at the Allergy & Asthma Network. With a tinge of embarrassment for feeling like I was the world’s worst allergy mom, I sent a picture and asked if they had any words of wisdom for me as well as to others on how to prevent a dirty inhaler from entering our lives again. They quickly responded with some helpful information from their Understanding Asthma Guide: “Clean your inhaler following the manufacturer’s instructions, usually once per week. Clean the actuator — not the metal canister — with warm water and leave time for it to air dry before another dose is needed. Holding chambers also need to be washed, especially when the unit becomes cloudy or filmy inside. Replace disposable parts as recommended to avoid bacterial growth. Talk with your doctor if there’s any uncertainty about cleaning your inhaler or holding chamber.”

Updating During my frantic summer allergy cleaning binge, I also noticed my son’s emergency contact paperwork was faded and torn. This is something that I consider to be an extension of safety for him in the event that he is unable to speak for himself. It contains a copy of my son’s Allergy Action Plan. I also updated his picture because, gosh, don’t all children seem to change overnight?! This is also helpful when your child is with people they normally aren’t around (such as a substitute teacher) so that they have immediate confirmation that the person with the food allergy pack matches up with the listed allergens and contact information. Never assume, always overdue. Nobody ever died from too much information, only not enough.

I also checked expiration dates on his medications both inside his allergy pack and the extras that we keep on hand in the house and made sure our stock was full. It only took one bad asthma night with just a few counted doses available in his inhaler for me to realize that expiration dates on these life-saving medications are something that cannot be forgotten. Again, as a mom of an asthmatic child, the last thing that you want to tell your child who is gasping for breath is to not use their inhaler unless they have to because it might run out. I’m not proud of that moment but it happens to the best of us and teaches us new organization and safety techniques to avoid future repeats.

Early script refills - smallRefilling Because of the discount cards available the past few years, this is one area that is super easy and non-stressful. Both EpiPen and Auvi-Q have continued to provide copay assistance, which means one less expense. Nothing can beat refilling a prescription for twin packs of epinephrine and seeing a giant $0 on the receipt. Don’t get me wrong- my son’s safety is priceless and I would gladly pay to keep him that much safer at all times but not having to spend that money each year is a food allergy parents dream.

I do recommend discussing how to write out the prescription correctly with your child’s pediatrician or allergy specialist. This will ensure full benefit of the copay discounts, additional epinephrine to have on hand and for the next school year and ultimately, it will save you time going back and forth to the pharmacy for repeat refills. Also discuss correct dosages of medications for your child’s height, weight and age to prevent wasting a refilled prescription (ex: filling an Epipen Jr prescription and finding out after the fact that your child is now considered to be within the EpiPen adult dosage range…then what to do with the wasted medications?)

Allergies can be tricky but each year brings new techniques and better ways to come up with a strategy on what works best for your child and family. Just remember to be accepting of what might not work in the beginning, or even the year after and always give yourself more than enough time to be ready for school. The better prepared and calm that you seem, the less stressed your allergic child will begin another school year.

This Summer, Help Your Kids Fight the “Common Mold” Allergy

The term “hay fever” brings to mind pollen and ragweed allergies, but mold can be the sneaky culprit behind summer sneezing, sniffling and itchy eyes. “Many allergy sufferers assume their symptoms are caused by pollen, when they’re actually allergic to mold,” says Dr. James L. Sublett, section chief of the pediatric allergy department at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, in Louisville, Ky.

The mold truth: Forty million Americans suffer from allergic rhinitis (aka hay fever), and mold is one of several triggers — especially in summertime. Mold allergy symptoms peak in July and late summer; as humidity rises, the fungi, which flourish in damp, warm conditions, grow on dead grass and leaves, straw and other plants. Once they’ve set up camp in an adequately damp spot, they reproduce by sending spores (or tiny seeds) into the air. Inhaling these particles triggers a reaction in those who are allergic to mold. “Mold spores can deposit on the lining of the nose and cause hay fever symptoms. They also can reach the lungs, which can cause asthma or another serious illness called allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis,” says Angel Waldron, spokesperson for the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

So how do you know if you suffer from a mold allergy? Pesky allergy symptoms are a good indicator, but an allergist can confirm the source with a skin test, pricking the skin with extracts of different types of fungi to identify an allergic reaction.

Such medications as antihistamines and decongestants can help ease symptoms from mold. But the only surefire route to relief is avoiding mold both inside and outside your home. Follow these summer tips to allergy-proof your surroundings.

Inside Your Home

Mold is an unwelcome houseguest, and it’s hard to send the fungi packing. It lurks in rooms where humidity levels are high (the basement, kitchen and bathrooms), and it can grow on anything from houseplants to old newspapers. Luckily, our targeted plan of attack will help you get rid of the fungi for good.

Keep It Clean

  • Zap kitchen hot spots. Mold loves to hang out in trash cans, refrigerator door gaskets and drip pans. Use a cleaning product formulated to kill the fungi.
  • Don’t let laundry pile up. Damp laundry (in the machine or out) is the perfect spot for mold to grow.
  • Scrub your shower. Clean your shower with a solution of diluted beach at least once a month.
  • Tidy up the fridge. It may seem obvious, but make sure to throw out old food from your pantry and fridge as soon as it expires.

Clear the Air

  • Get hip to HEPA. Be sure your central heating and air-conditioning is fitted with a high-efficiency particulate accumulator (HEPA) filter. HEPA filters can trap very small particles, including pollen and mold spores, and are sold online and at numerous home improvement stores.
  • Minimize moisture. Use a dehumidifier, especially in damp areas like the basement and the bathroom, suggests Sublett. Don’t forget to empty the water and clean the appliance regularly to prevent creating a breeding ground for mold.
  • Air out the shower. After hot showers and baths, run a fan or open a window. In bathrooms without windows, keep the door open when the room isn’t in use.

Target Mold Zones

  • Bag the shag. Remove carpeting in the basement, laundry room and bathrooms.
  • Clear the walls. Wallpaper can trap mildew in the bathroom; a cheery shade of paint is a better bet. Look for mold- and mildew-resistant paint at the hardware store.
  • Let there be light. Since most mold grows in the dark, install a light on a timer in dark rooms like the basement or closets.
  • Store carefully. Don’t put newspaper, old books, clothes, bedding or other items in damp areas where mold will latch on.
  • Water with care. Mold loves potted soil, so don’t overwater household plants.

Outside Your Home

It’s more of a challenge to eradicate mold outside your home, where it thrives on dead grass, dead leaves, straw and other plants. These five strategies will keep the fungi under control in your great outdoors.

  • Rake and mow. The lawn should be regularly mowed and raked. It’s best to have someone else do the dirty work if you’re allergic; otherwise, wear a face mask when you’re cutting the grass, digging, weeding or raking.
  • Chop and remove. Store firewood away from your home.
  • Patch the roof. Be proactive: Repair any leaks in your roof immediately.
  • De-clutter the gutters. Always keep rain gutters clear of leaves and debris.
  • Relocate compost. A compost pile is good and green — but it’s also a major mold breeding ground. Keep it as far away from your house as possible.

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