Every year in Northwest Ohio, a progression of different pollen types takes to the air beginning in late winter or early spring and continuing well into autumn. Unfortunately, individuals who are allergic to one or more of these pollens can experience a host of unpleasant symptoms during this period, causing them to dread winter’s end and the arrival of warmer weather.
According to ProMedica pediatric pulmonologist Jennifer Ruddy, MD, people with these seasonal allergies—commonly known as “hay fever”—experience symptoms at approximately the same time each year, coinciding with the appearance of the particular pollen type (or types) to which they’re allergic. “In Northwest Ohio, tree pollen is in the air from as early as February to May. Then, from approximately May to June, it’s grass pollen season, followed by ragweed season from about mid-August until the first hard frost in fall. Mold spores, which are another common seasonal allergy trigger, are also prominent in fall due to all the decomposing leaves,” she explains. Of course, the time frame for the appearance of these seasonal allergens will vary depending on factors such as the severity of winter, and there can be considerable overlap in their timing.
Symptoms associated with seasonal allergies include sneezing; runny, stuffy nose; itchy eyes, nose, and throat; and coughing. Dr. Ruddy adds that people with asthma triggered by seasonal allergens can also experience significant coughing along with wheezing and shortness of breath.
When children exhibit symptoms of seasonal allergies, it can be challenging for their parents to distinguish their allergic response from symptoms of the common cold, but Dr. Ruddy identifies a few signs that can help parents tell the difference: “One tip-off is that the child develops symptoms at the same time each year,” she says. “Another giveaway is the duration of symptoms. Oftentimes allergy symptoms last all season long, whereas kids who have the common cold usually get better in seven to 10 days. Also, allergies are rare in kids younger than two and usually develop by 10 years of age, so symptoms in a child younger than two are more likely to be due to the common cold.”
Seasonal allergies can be confirmed in one of two main ways. One is blood testing to look for allergen-specific antibodies; the other is skin-prick testing, which, as the name implies, involves pricking the skin, placing a small amount of allergen on the site where the prick was made, and watching for a reaction.
If your child is determined to have seasonal allergies, the appropriate approach to management will depend on factors such as the timing and severity of symptoms and the types of treatment that prove to be helpful in his or her particular situation.
One step that can benefit all kids with seasonal allergies is limiting their exposure to allergens. Dr. Ruddy recommends keeping your home’s windows closed and using air conditioning if available, keeping allergic kids indoors when pollen and mold counts are high, and encouraging kids to shower or bathe after playing outside in order to wash off allergens—especially if they’ve been rolling around on the ground or in leaves. “To keep track of pollen counts, you can check weather.com or your local weather station’s broadcasts or website. There are also phone apps you can use to monitor the count day to day,” she says.
In addition, there are several medications that can help manage seasonal allergy symptoms, for example antihistamines and nasal steroid sprays. In cases where reduced exposure and the use of medications prove to be inadequate for controlling symptoms, allergy immunotherapy (administering gradually increasing doses of an allergen to the individual so his or her body becomes less sensitive to it) may be something to consider. Dr. Ruddy encourages parents to talk to their child’s pediatrician about the various treatment options available to them. “Also, if your child has asthma, it’s important to keep that under control, which might include the use of a rescue inhaler for quick relief or, if symptoms are persistent, the daily use of a controller medicine. Again, your child’s doctor can advise you on the different options,” she states.
Dr. Jennifer Ruddy is currently accepting new patients. Her office is located at 2121 Hughes Drive, Suite 640, in Toledo, and can be reached at 419-291-2207. Hours of operation are 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. on Friday.