Spring has officially arrived — and it’s brought sunnier days, warmer temperatures, flowers, and the opportunity for kids to spend more time playing outside (hallelujah). But there is one downside to this beloved season: Spring allergies, which can potentially be deadly for children if they go untreated. To complicate matters, a lot of children who have been diagnosed with asthma also have allergies — and this combination can make spring allergy season seriously stressful for concerned parents.
Here’s the good news: Although kids with severe allergies or asthma do require medical treatment, Cortney Mazur, RN, MSN, and CPNP-AC at Children’s Hospital of Michigan, tells SheKnows these conditions are rarely life-threatening as long as you pay attention to warning signs and seek immediate care when necessary.
“Anaphylactic reactions to bee or insect stings can be life-threatening if not recognized immediately,” Mazur says. “Signs of any severe allergic reaction can include any or all of the following: Hives, rash, difficulty breathing, or swelling to the face, throat, or tongue.” If you are concerned that your child is experiencing any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention and administer your child’s EpiPen if they have one.
In most cases, asthma and allergies are unpleasant but manageable conditions. “Asthma, allergies, and eczema tend to all go hand-in-hand in many children. It’s not uncommon for kids to have all three of these conditions,” Mazur says. “Allergens, particularly environmental allergens, can be a big trigger for asthmatics. This is why so many kids feel like their asthma is worse in the fall and the spring when the weather changes and these outdoor allergens are in full effect.”
Of course not every child with asthma also has allergies (and vice versa), so the first step to taking care of your coughing, sneezing, congested little one is getting the correct diagnosis.
Dr. Wan-Yin Chan, a pediatric allergist at CHOC Children’s, tells SheKnows that kid allergies typically present in the form of nasal or ocular symptoms such as a stuffy nose, a runny nose, sneezing fits, nasal itch, postnasal drip, or watery and itchy eyes. Asthma symptoms, on the other hand, are characterized by excessive coughing (especially at night), wheezing, shortness of breath, or chest tightness.
“If your child has all of the symptoms, then they may have both asthma and allergies,” Chan says.
For treating allergies, Mazur recommends over-the-counter antihistamines such as Claritin, Zyrtec, or Benadryl. “[They’re] available in liquid preparations for children,” she says. “These are safe if given as directed on the box for the age and size of your child.” Mazur also recommends nasal sprays such as Flonase and Nasonex that can help control nose symptoms.
Dr. Douglas Jones, MD, an allergy and immunology specialist at the Tanner Clinic’s Rocky Mountain Allergy Center, tells SheKnows that, in addition to antihistamines and nasal sprays, common treatments include avoidance of triggers and known allergies (which can be identified through medical tests) and allergen immunotherapy, also known as allergy shots.
Asthma treatment can be a little more complicated. Mazur explains that there are many options, but it boils down to two main categories: Rescue medication and controller medication. Rescue inhalers such as Albuterol, Ventolin, and ProAir should be used as needed when your child is wheezing and having trouble breathing. “If exercise is a trigger for your child, you can also pretreat with this medication 15 minutes before exercise or activity,” Mazur advises.
Controller inhalers are used on a daily basis regardless of your child’s symptoms. Mazur tells SheKnows that these medications are typically used twice a day and consist of a low dose of inhaled steroid medication. “These medications are not to be used as a rescue for acute difficulty breathing,” she emphasizes. “They work by keeping the lungs strong and healthy by reducing inflammation with the goal of better control and prevention of future symptoms.”
If your child experiences an acute asthma attack, doctors may also prescribe an oral steroid course for a few days until the symptoms resolve.
The consensus among doctors is “better safe than sorry.” If you suspect your child may have asthma, allergies, or both, it’s definitely worth it to make an appointment with an allergist or their pediatrician so you can get a diagnosis and form a treatment plan.
“If a child exhibits symptoms of either asthma or allergies, they should see an allergist for testing and evaluation,” Chan says. “Once known allergens are identified, minimizing exposure can help treat asthma symptoms as well.”
In general, scheduling an appointment and getting to the doctor as soon as they have an opening will suffice — but there are exceptions. Mazur says you should seek medical attention immediately “if your child is breathing too quickly, is unable to catch their breath, and is unable to complete sentences.” Other signs that indicate it’s time to seek immediate medical attention are if your child seems to be using extra muscles to breathe and if you see retractions (tugging at the child’s neck or between the ribs).
It’s scary for any parent to see their child suffering from the symptoms of allergies, asthma, or both. But luckily there are plenty of treatment options out there, so the sooner you form a treatment plan with your child’s pediatrician or an asthma and allergy specialist, the better. They may have to avoid certain triggers and activities, but they’ll be able to get back to doing what kids are meant to do in the springtime: Playing outside in the beautiful weather as they count down the days until the last day of school.