Your 7-year-old has a watery, runny nose and is sneezing. At first, you think it’s just a cold, but as it goes on you wonder: could it be seasonal allergies?
While rare in babies and uncommon in young children, seasonal allergies can occur for school-aged children. As our immune systems develop, our bodies catalogue each new encounter with the environment. Sometimes, the body will tag something as a “foreign invader,” and when exposed to this invader on subsequent occasions, the immune system will begin to treat it as an allergen. Once this happens, whenever we come in contact with this invader, our immune systems will respond by producing more white blood cells to release the chemical called histamine, which results in the itchy, watery eyes, runny nose, and sneezing we associate with allergies.
Note: If your little one is having a particularly symptomatic time, Google is a great resource for tracking which pollens are prevalent that day.
Seasonal allergy or infection?
Inhaled allergies can be seasonal, or the result of exposure to common year-round allergens such as dust, dander, and mould. Seasonal allergies are cyclical, usually making an appearance in the spring or fall as the weather changes and plants pollinate. Pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds are the most common culprits behind your little one’s seasonal allergies. These typically result in symptoms like itchy/teary eyes, clear watery nasal discharge, sneezing, breathing through the mouth, possible bloody nose, sore throat or swollen tonsils, fatigue, dark circles under the eyes, and more.
If accompanied with fever, thick nasal discharge that is white, yellow, or green, and muscle aches, the symptoms are more likely a sign of an infection. When trying to differentiate between infection and allergies, pay attention to the symptoms and see if they make a cyclical appearance every spring or fall. Keep in mind that mild symptoms that last longer than a week are more likely to be allergies.
Tips for managing allergy season
The key to treatment is to eliminate or avoid as much of the allergen/s as possible while simultaneously controlling the allergic response.
A great first step is to decrease the allergen load inside the house. Everyone should remove shoes and wash hands upon entry from outside. Additionally, you may choose to change from outdoor to indoor clothes, or even take a shower if the pollen count is high (or if allergic reactions are severe). Frequent laundering of sheets, regular vacuuming, and cleaning surfaces with a diluted vinegar solution to keep dust and animal dander at bay can also help. Consider investing in a HEPA air filter and dust mite-resistant mattress and pillow covers, and do your best to keep pets out of the child’s bedroom. Finally, if allergies are severe, avoid going outdoors during times of high concentration if necessary (though obviously not ideal). Some weather networks include a pollen level forecast in their report, so it might be a good idea to schedule outdoor activities accordingly.
Saline lavage (neti pots), spray, or drops can be helpful to flush out the nasal passages to provide symptom relief. You can also use a diffuser to infuse the air in your home with essential oils like eucalyptus, lavender, and thyme, which can also be helpful and soothing.
Making sure to keep your child well-hydrated during allergy season is also highly recommended. Dripping noses and frequent sneezes can really dry out and strip the natural integrity of the membranes that line the nose and throat, leaving your little one more susceptible to an infection, especially as the allergies have already left them run-down.
6 keys to a natural anti-allergy diet
Along with providing a pollen-free space, a diet filled with nutrient-dense foods that features protein, healthy fats, and brightly coloured fruit and veggies can help little ones cope with their symptoms. Adding a few key supplements and herbals that contain natural antihistamines, decongestants, and anti-inflammatories will help round out your anti-allergy plan.
Omega-3s are essential fats that help address the inflammation that accompanies allergies. Increase intake of wild-caught, cold water fish and flaxseed or supplement with omega-3 oils.
Bioflavonoids are a group of powerful antioxidant plant compounds that can be beneficial to allergy sufferers as some bioflavonoids act as nature’s antihistamines. Load up on bioflavonoid-rich foods like citrus, cherries, dark grapes, broccoli, and red and green peppers during allergy season, and up your child’s intake of pineapple, ginger, and turmeric, as they also contain compounds that ease inflammation (see below for more information on quercetin, a bioflavonoid found in onions that may also provide some support).
If your little one can’t swallow a capsule yet, or just would prefer not to, offer chewables, powders, glycinates, extracts, tinctures, or teas where available to make taking supplements and herbals just a little bit easier (and tastier).
Vitamin C helps to stabilize mast cells (the cells that release histamine), making it a natural feature of an anti-allergy protocol. Available in supplement or foods like citrus, papaya, strawberries, pineapple, and broccoli.
This powerful bioflavonoid (typically taken in supplement form) is a fantastic natural antihistamine. Quercetin helps decrease the amount of histamine released by stabilizing the mast cells and vessels that release and transport histamines. Works very well when combined with vitamin C!
The benefits of magnesium are wide-ranging, whether a supplement is taken for stress relief and sleep aid, to gastrointestinal problems, to heart, blood, and liver support. Magnesium research shows it is also helpful for allergy sufferers, especially for those who are deficient.
Herbals, especially in tasty tea form, can also be comforting and beneficial for alleviating the symptoms associated with seasonal allergies.
Nettle (Urtica dioica) may help reduce inflammation and inhibit histamine production.
Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis) may help reduce inflammation and decrease mucous.
Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) has both antihistamine and anti-inflammatory benefits. Licorice tea may help with a runny nose (check out Dr. Lescanec's recipe for a tasty, kid-friendly twist on chai tea that features soothing licorice).
Speak to your healthcare provider for the best strategies and supplement dosages for your child’s specific needs.
If the little person in your life is showing signs of allergies, it’s good to know that there are pharmaceutical-free options out there that can help get their symptoms under control - so they can get back to the business of playing outside!
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