Spring has sprung! Trees are in full bloom. Gorgeous cherry blossoms and wisteria are filling the air with their beautiful scent – and filling our noses and eyes with their, aah-aaah-aaaachooo! Pollen! For allergy sufferers like me and my daughter, this is not a fun time. You may have already started with that sneezy, runny nose, congested, itchy eyes, scratchy throat, wheezy cough, fatigued, brain fog kind of feeling! Sounds miserable, right?
How Do I Know if My Child Has Allergies?
We’re talking about environmental allergies. Not food allergies or food sensitivities/intolerances (a topic for another post). Apart from the obvious nose and eye allergy symptoms, the following are some signs that your child may have allergies:
- Constant runny/stuffy nose (year-round symptoms are more suspicious for year-round allergens, like dust mites).
- The “allergic salute” – constantly rubbing the nose in an upward direction, often causing a horizontal crease across the tip of the nose.
- “Allergic shiners” – those persistently dark circles under your child’s eyes that don’t go away no matter how much sleep they get.
- Mouth-breathing or snoring – unless they’re sick with a cold, kids should NOT snore!
- Persistent cough, especially when laying down, most likely from postnasal drip pooling in the back of the throat.
- Frequent throat clearing , especially first thing in the morning.
- Eczema or other frequent itchy rashes.
How Do I Know What My Child is Allergic To?
When possible, find out what your child is allergic to. This can be done through blood or skin-scratch testing, through your pediatrician or an allergist. Blood tests are now just as accurate as skin-scratch testing, and one advantage is that many different allergens can be tested for with the same blood draw. Depending on the size of your child’s back, skin-scratch testing may take several visits, take over an hour each visit, and be super uncomfortable and itchy.
If you’re nervous about having your child’s blood drawn, ask your doctor about a prescription numbing cream called EMLA – works like a charm. My 4 year-old son sat happily through his blood draw, watching Dora on my phone while the phlebotomist did her thing.
There are also other less invasive, “energetic” techniques that can be explored with your holistic practitioner. You may want to discuss with your child’s doctor which testing method would be most appropriate for your child.
If you know what your child is allergic to, it makes it easier to try to stay clear.
What is the “Bucket Theory” of allergies?
Let’s say your child is allergic to dust mites, Timothy grass, cat dander, and horse hair. Now imagine a bucket that is more or less filled depending on what allergens your child is exposed to. When the bucket is overflowing, that’s when your child will have symptoms – whatever symptoms she experiences, whether it’s runny nose, itchy eyes, eczema flare, wheezing, snoring, fatigue, or just plain grouchiness. You’ve implemented dust mite protection as best as you can, but your child is likely exposed to dust mites on a daily basis to some level, so let’s say that at baseline, your child’s bucket is about 1/4-filled. Now let’s imagine that it’s springtime and Timothy grass is blooming, AND your child has just gone on an outdoor-education field trip with her school, so her bucket is 1/2-filled. OK, NOW imagine that your child has a play date with her bestie, who just got a long-haired cat, and whose brother comes home covered in horse hair after his horseback riding lesson. Oh boy! Now your child’s bucket is brimming just to the top, splashing over just a bit. Now imagine that your child’s allergy bucket capacity has shrunk – the “brim” of her allergy bucket has lowered because she’s tired, or sick, or has had too much sugar, or has exerted herself too much, or has just gotten super excited or super angry.
Now your child is UNDERWATER!
10 Ways to Lower Your Child’s Allergy “Bucket”
You want to minimize avoidable allergens (i.e., dogs, cats, dust mites) in order to keep your child’s allergy “bucket” low, so that when your child is faced with unavoidable allergens (i.e., pollen), your child’s bucket doesn’t “overflow” and cause a flood of allergy symptoms.
1. Avoid going outdoors on high pollen-count days. (HA!!! Try telling that to your kid!).
2. Keep house and car windows closed, especially on windy, high pollen-count days.
3. After coming in from outdoors:
- Take shoes off at the front door to prevent tracking allergens into the house.
- Remove as many sources of trapped pollen as possible from your child. That way your child isn’t continually shaking pollen into their eyes and nose even while indoors:
- Take off their jacket at the front door.
- Change their shirt.
- Wash their face, focusing on eyebrows and eyelashes.
- Take a wet comb through their hair, or wash it.
4. Carry wet wipes to wash her face (especially eyelashes, eyebrows, and around nose) and wet hair frequently when playing outside, especially on grass or around trees.
5. Use HEPA air purifiers for your home, especially in your child’s room or wherever he spends the most time.
6. Keep the air filters in your house clean.
7. Vacuum often, and use a vacuum with a HEPA filter.
8. Irrigate your nose to remove allergens daily, if not more frequently.
- This can be done with sinus rinses, like a neti pot, Nasopure, or Neilmed sinus rinse, or saline sprays like Xlear.
9. Hardwood floors and blinds (rather than curtains) trap fewer allergens and are easier to clean.
- I’m not telling you to remodel your whole house! But if you have curtains, swap them out for blinds if possible, at least in your child’s bedroom. And get rid of any unnecessary throw rugs…
10. If your child is allergic to dust mites, then be sure to:
- Use dust covers for pillows, mattresses, and duvets.
- Avoid feather/down as these trap more dust mites.
- Get rid of those super cute, decorative throw pillows – you know the ones I’m talking about! And you know that cozy fuzzy warm blanket that you all love to snuggle under during family movie night – toss it, or wash it in hot water often!
- If your child is a stuffed animal lover, then let your child choose one favorite stuffy to snuggle with at night, and then wash and dry it weekly. All other stuffies can sit on a shelf or stay at the foot of the bed.
- If washing is not an option for that favorite stuffy, then you can put it in a pillow case and run it in the high heat setting of your dryer for 15 minutes to kill the dust mites. Freezing the stuffy for 24 hours can also kill dust mites, although it won’t get rid of other allergens like pollen that may have drifted in from an open window. That is, of course, if you have room in your freezer for it!
Now that you’ve figured out if your child has allergies, and how to lower their allergy bucket, find out how to take charge of their allergies naturally in my next blog post! Allergies 102: Take Control of Your Child’s Allergies, Naturally!
Thank you so much for allowing me to share in your journey to take charge of your child’s health, naturally! If you found value in this, please share it with your friends, family or colleagues – anyone who may benefit from an integrative approach to their or their child’s health care.
I’d love to hear from you! Please leave a comment below.
xo Holistic mama doc – Elisa Song, MD
(Updated on April 3, 2017 from a previous post with even more awesome information!)