Cold…or Allergies?

By Stacy Whitman


Yes, allergy season is here again—except this time, it’s your baby who’s suffering. Kids as young as age 2 can get seasonal allergies (otherwise known as seasonal allergic rhinitis or hay fever). Anyone who’s had them knows just how miserable they can be. In addition to a runny or stuffy nose, itchy eyes, coughing and sneezing, your child could experience a loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, fatigue and irritability. If left untreated, he’s apt to develop a sinus or ear infection—and could even have problems in school over time.

For the uninitiated: An allergy is the body’s immune system overreacting to a foreign matter or “allergen” that is breathed in, eaten, touched or injected. To fight off the “invader,” the body releases histamines and other chemicals that cause irritation—and that’s where the sneezing, itching and congestion come in. As many as 40 percent of American children suffer from allergic rhinitis, making it the third most common chronic disease among kids. Fortunately, with the right approach, experts say these allergies can be effectively managed and treated.

Spring, summer and early fall are prime time for seasonal allergies, which are usually triggered by grass, tree and weed pollens or mold spores. Exactly when the sneezing and other symptoms kick in depends on where you live and what your child is allergic to, says Todd Mahr, MD, director of pediatric allergy/immunology at Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center in La Crosse, Wis. In some places, like southern California or Florida, they can occur year-round. 

Kids aren’t born with hay fever. Generally, it takes one to two years of exposure to an environmental allergen before symptoms develop, explains Paul V. Williams, MD, clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle and an allergist at Northwest Asthma and Allergy Center in Mount Vernon, Wash. That why, in most cases, children don’t exhibit signs of seasonal allergies until after the age of 2 or 3.