A guide to seasonal allergies in kids

Signs of spring have officially arrived, meaning two things are likely right around the corner: warmer weather and seasonal allergies.

Seasonal allergies affect roughly 15% to 20% of the population. Dr. Sai R. Nimmagadda, attending physician, Allergy & Immunology at Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, shares his expert opinion on how families can identify, manage and treat allergies in children.

Seasonal allergies will typically present as symptoms such as:

• Itchy, watery, or burning eyes

• Nasal congestion

• Sneezing

• Watery nose

• Throat clearing/post-nasal drip

• Coughing

• Difficulty breathing

"I also advise parents to keep an eye on nontraditional symptoms such as chronic ear and sinus infections, snoring and mouth breathing, and recommend families consult an allergist to ensure there isn't an allergic component driving these less-common issues," Nimmagadda said. "Allergy symptoms can impact a child's quality of life. Experiencing these symptoms on a regular basis can interrupt sleeping habits, making it more difficult to focus during the day, in school, etc."

As the name would suggest, allergens tend to change with the season, but aren't exclusive to just one season. They're something to be mindful of throughout the entire year.

Heading into spring, trees are beginning to bud, therefore kids might expect tree pollen to irritate them. In the summer and fall, molds as well as grass and weed pollens are more prevalent, whereas winter allergies tend to be caused by dust mites, pet dander and even mice and cockroach contamination.

Allergies can develop at any time, even well into adolescence and adulthood. Most children who have allergies in childhood can vary in severity and it's dependent on many variables: the type of allergies the child has, the exposure to those triggers, response to medicines, among others.

"While it may not be realistic to completely prevent exposure from potential allergens year-round, being aware of what each season may bring is a first step in helping mitigate allergy-related issues," Nimmagadda said.

Families can address allergies in one of two ways: once symptoms have become noticeably bothersome to the child, or by proactively bringing them to a physician for allergy testing.

Both require a quick and simple procedure called skin testing, where the child is safely tested for various allergens based on the history and child's symptoms. "It's a 20-minute process and very easy to perform in children even down to 6 months of age. Based on the results of the skin testing, we can make a diagnosis and determine a treatment plan," Nimmagadda said.

Families are welcome to do proactive allergy testing any time during childhood, Nimmagadda said, but exposure and duration to exposure are important considerations when it comes to the timeline of understanding allergies. Typically, allergies become symptomatic at around 3 to 5 years of age, whereas kids younger than 3 likely haven't yet developed the antibodies that react to outdoor allergens. Ultimately, it can take a few seasons to know what a child's specific allergic profile will be.

Nimmagadda's primary approach to treatment is to diagnose, mitigate exposure if possible and identify what medications are needed based on the child's symptoms. Typically, "second-generation" antihistamine medications (i.e., produces less side effects, such as drowsiness) are prescribed to patients, and there are several approved over-the-counter options available for kids as young as 2 years old.

"As far as home remedies go, parents can also proactively get rid of lingering irritants by encouraging kids to change their clothes when they come in from outside and take a shower or bath. I also recommend doing a saline nasal rinse if symptoms are especially troublesome," said Nimmagadda.

Most children will not outgrow allergies, but the course and progression can vary. If a child continues to have allergic symptoms despite some level of intervention, he notes that additional testing may be needed.

The Division of Allergy and Immunology at Lurie Children's treats more children for allergies and asthma than any other hospital in Illinois. Learn more at

• Children's health is a continuing series. This week's article is courtesy of Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. For more information, visit

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