Kids’ Summertime Sneezes: Allergies or Cold?

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August 11, 2016


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Allergies in children are typically associated with pollen during spring and fall. But characteristics of the summer season create several other conditions that can trigger allergies, especially in children who are spending more time outside during the break from school.

“Summer is actually a more allergic time of year in South Florida, compared to the fall and spring when upper respiratory infections are more common,” said Carlos Piniella, M.D., an allergist with Baptist Health Quality Network. “The high degree of heat and humidity in itself can exacerbate symptoms of allergies, asthma and allergic skin conditions.”

It’s also a time when levels of mold and dust mites – two of the most common allergens – are highest.

In subtropical climates like South Florida, humidity is also a factor. According to Dr. Piniella, the mere change in barometric pressure can trigger allergies. And rain can stir up pollen that has dried up on plants, aerosolizing it into the air.

Children are also in the pool a lot during summer, and chlorine tends to trigger asthmatic reactions.

Reactions to food allergies can also rise during the heat of summer. The popularity of barbecues in the summer months and mixing foods on the grill increases chances of cross contamination. Allergens from burning wood and charcoal travel through smoke in the air and can irritate respiratory airways.

“Likewise, smoke that’s created by brush fires that can spark during dry parts of the summer is a strong irritant that leads to more sensitivities to allergens in the air,” Dr. Piniella said.

Allergy and Cold Differences

Dr. Piniella says symptoms of colds and allergies in children can seem very alike and a lot of times are intertwined. Allergies in kids can also lead to symptoms of a cold, such as ear infections, so it can be hard to differentiate what they have, he says. Symptoms typical of both allergies and colds include tiredness, congestion, runny nose, cough and wheezing.

“The biggest difference is fever and the color of mucus,” said Dr. Piniella. “Children with allergies don’t have a fever, and their mucus is clear to light yellow. When the mucus is green, it’s a sign of infection.”

It’s also important to pay attention to frequency. “Colds don’t occur that often. If a child is getting cold symptoms weekly or monthly, they are likely being affected by allergies,” he says.

Allergy Prevention

It’s hard for children to avoid allergens when living year-round in a subtropical climate like South Florida, says Dr. Piniella. Making these adjustments can help kids cope:

  1. Home environment. Dust mites are typically found in the bedroom. Cover mattresses and pillows with dust mite covers and wash sheets in water that’s 130 degrees or higher once a week. No carpeting is best for an allergy-free home. And don’t use ceiling fans. They stir up dirt from the ground up, leaving your nose and lungs to do the filtering work.
  2. Avoid going outside just before and after rain storms. These are when mold level in the air are highest.
  3. Stay inside when the temperature outside is hottest. Allergic skin conditions, such as hives and eczema, get worse when exposed to a very hot environment.
  4. Be careful with pesticides. The strong chemicals in bug sprays can be major irritants. Instead, use roach motels to trap insects.
  5. Pet patrol. Cats and dogs rub on grass and trees when they go outside and then bring allergens indoors. Wipe them down when they come inside. And keep pets out of bedrooms.
  6. Travel tips. Hotel rooms can have high levels of allergens and irritants. Ask for an allergy-free hotel room. Always remind children to wash hands often when traveling.

Over-the-counter medications can ease children’s allergy symptoms. Non-sedating antihistamines and steroid nasal sprays work well, according to Dr. Piniella.

“Children with frequent allergies should get tested,” said Dr. Piniella. “We can provide more effective treatment when we know the triggers and how to avoid them.”

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