I’m not entirely sure if it is because of the unseasonably mild winter or the early warm up this spring but children with allergies have been having a particularly rough time. Even when parents recognize the symptoms of allergy early, when the amount of allergic irritant in the air is huge, no medication can alleviate all the symptoms.
Here’s how allergies work. The body gets exposed to something like a pollen and decides for whatever reason that the pollen is a bad thing. In order to eradicate it from the body, a series of responses occur including watery eyes, runny nose, itchy skin and cough. These symptoms are caused by histamine release and the body’s theory is that if you sneeze and cough and flush the allergen out with secretions the body will be rid of the invader. Unfortunately this response isn’t comfortable. Itchy eyes, sneezing, runny nose and eye swelling can all occur in response to pollen exposure.
Antihistamines are the primary treatment for environmental allergies. These medications come in long acting preparations (claritin, zyrtec, and allegra to name a few) as well as short acting ones (benadryl). Short acting antihistamines are more effective at controlling symptoms but because they can cause drowsiness and need to be dosed as often as every 4 hours they aren’t as practical as the long acting medications. The long acting preparations although not as likely to cause sleepiness are not as strong and as a result may not give quite enough relief when the pollen counts are really high.
Adding a prescription nasal spray may help with some of the sneezing and runny nose symptoms and is worth talking about with your healthcare provider if you’re maxed out on your antihistamine and still have significant nasal congestion, runny nose, cough or sore throat.
If eye itching and swelling is a major issue despite oral antihistamine use, talk to your doctor about adding a prescription allergy eyedrop once or twice a day to help with these symptoms.
Lastly, if your symptoms are really bad, especially if you have hives or significant swelling despite using all of the treatments described above, a course of oral steroids may be needed to get things under control. Healthcare providers prefer not to use oral steroids for allergy control but if you have allergic asthma or if your nose and eye symptoms remain out of control then it may be your best bet.