The spring season brings with it beautiful blooming flowers, clear skies, longer days and, yes—the dreaded pollen. Allergy season must be upon us. Or is it? Allergy season can actually take place year-round according to Cook Children’s Dr. Ramon Kinloch, Forest Park Pediatrician.
“Different allergy triggers happen at different times of the year,” Kinloch explains. “For example, in the fall ragweed season is pretty high. In the springtime, things are in bloom, so you get all kinds of trees, flowers, grass and pollen that are growing. It really depends on what you are most sensitive to.”
Pollen and dust aren’t all to blame when it comes to runny noses and nonstop sneezes—as a matter of fact, the symptom-causing mechanism is in our bodies.
“Our immune system will respond to what’s otherwise harmless, like pollen or dust, but it responds to it like it is a foreign invader to our body,” Kinloch points out. “It kind of goes into overdrive and produces an antibody, something called IgE, that can trigger histamine to be released and other chemicals that cause allergy symptoms.”
If having to determine what triggers these antibodies to be released isn’t bad enough, sometimes telling the difference between the common cold and allergies can be difficult. Kinloch says one of the key factors is how long your child’s symptoms last.
“A cold will usually last a few days, maybe up to a couple weeks. But if it’s lasting longer than that we can start thinking about allergies,” Kinloch shares. “Allergy symptoms can be seasonal—as long as the seasons are going on, you may have those symptoms.”
Fever is another common cold red flag—allergies usually do not cause a fever.
Although there is no definite way to assure your family won’t suffer from allergies this spring, there are a few preventative measures you and your family can take to reduce allergen exposure:
Check the pollen count. The pollen count varies day to day, and Kinloch recommends avoiding going outside on days the count is high. Pollen counts run on a scale of 12—a high county is between 7.3–12.0, according to pollen.com. Check your ZIP code’s pollen count at pollen.com, weatherbug.com (also available as an app on the Apple App Store and Google Play), or fox4news.com.
Keep the windows closed. We all love a fresh spring breeze through our homes or car, but keeping the windows up can prevent some of the outdoor allergens from coming inside.
Keep the humidity out. During the winter, you may use a humidifier to keep moisture in the air, however, according to Kinloch, the added moisture can create the perfect environment for dust mites. He recommends using a hygrometer to monitor the moisture and keep the humidity levels at 40–50 percent. You can do this by making sure to cover aquariums, leaving room doors open to allow circulation and covering pots while cooking, according to Lowe’s.
Using hypoallergenic sheets can also prevent allergens from collecting in your children’s beds.
6 ways to allergy-proof your home
Dr. Reina Patel, pediatrician at Children’s Health and Assistant Professor at UT Southwestern Medical Center gave us these tips for allergy-proofing your home to alleviate your family’s allergy symptoms.
Try to clean your house often. The dust can settle in to different areas of your house. Aim to wipe down areas which collect dust at least 1–2 times weekly. Also remember that both blinds and curtains can collect dust. Do try to dust your blinds twice weekly as well. If possible, also wash your curtains often.
If you live in a home with has carpet, be mindful that carpet can be a source which collects allergens. If possible, try to remove the carpet. Suitable replacements for carpet would be tile, hardwood and laminate.
Wash your bedding and comforters weekly. Many children have stuffed animals they love to sleep with. Since the stuffed animal can be a source of allergens, removal is the best option. However, if this is not possible, then wash the stuffed animal weekly in hot water.
Using an air purifier can help purify the environment within your home. A HEPA certified purifier is the preferred type. You can also try to use a HEPA filter on your vacuum.
It is recommended to have your child stay indoors with the windows closed when possible if the pollen counts are high outside. Keeping children indoors can be a tough task. If they do play outside, attempt to change their clothes and shower once they are back inside to minimize the pollens which are on their clothing and skin.
If your child has a pet allergy, ideally removal of the pet from the home is the best method for prevention. If your pet comes into the home or your child plays with the pet even briefly, the dander will remain in the home. Keeping the pet outdoors or out of the child’s room or bathing the animal usually does not help very much. If removing the pet from the home is not an option, then attempt to keep the pet out of the child’s bedroom and use an air purifier.
Do remember that although one can try to control the allergens in your own home, you should always talk to your doctor about any symptoms you are having. Since you will likely visit other environments other than your home, it is important to treat your body and your symptoms with medications or allergy desensitization if deemed appropriate by your physician. —Dr. Reina Patel, Children’s Health
This article was originally published in 2018.