Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and have ZERO training in medicine or health care. I’m not even sure how I ended up in an Honors Chemistry class in high school! This Springtime Allergy Family Survival Guide is a “tips” post only and not offered as medical advice for allergies. Please consult with your doctor before taking any actions related to your health care.
By Patricia L. Hall, FairfaxFamilyFun.com
If looking at at map such as this screenshot of Pollen.com’s forecast of a typical spring day in Northern Virginia makes you cringe, you are not alone: webMD estimates that 35 million people in the United States suffer from seasonal allergic rhinitis, the spring allergies commonly called hay fever.
Recent years have been especially tough: in Spring 2014 The Washington Post highlightsed a “pollen vortex” or “perfect storm of pollen.” Such news isn’t good for those with allergies and/or asthma, and short of moving out of the area, there isn’t much you can do to completely avoid pollen. There are steps you can take, however, to reduce your misery this time of year. Take it from someone who’s dealt with allergies for years!
12 Tips for the Whole Family
1. See a specialist: Consult with your primary care doctor or pediatrician, who can refer you to an allergist for detailed testing to determine your specific allergies. An allergist also can tell you if immunotherapy (allergy shots) is right for you. This could mean a big commitment of weekly shots over many years, but the treatment can make a big difference in the severity of your symptoms.
2. Attack allergies from various angles: Some people prefer the natural route, using essential oils (such as eucalyptus), saline nasal sprays, hot-air steam or vaporizers, nasal rinses or Neti-Pots, local honey (for sore throats), and other remedies. Some use over-the-counter (OTC) medicines including nasal spray decongestants, antihistamines, and medicated rubs (such as Vick’s). And some allergy sufferers need prescription medications (decongestants, asthma inhalers, and nebulizers). For many folks, a combination of prescription and/or OTC medicines plus homeopathic remedies is the way to go. Again, your doctor will know best what is right for you. When you have a plan, be diligent about your treatment.
3. Change clothes before going into the bedroom: Don’t track throughout the house whatever pollen you’ve brought from the outside via your clothes. Shower when you come in, or at least change your clothes right away. Also keep any coats, backpacks, or other items that have been outside away from you, particularly where you sleep at night.
4. Keep windows and doors closed: Keep all windows closed and run the air conditioner at all times — not just at home, but also in the car. Be on the lookout for any open windows when you are somewhere else and if you can’t close them, at least don’t be too close to them.
5. Clean, clean, clean! Vacuum more often than usual. Take off your shoes as soon as you walk into the house and leave them by the door. Change bed sheets and do laundry more often and of course don’t line-dry any clothes or linens (only use the electric clothes dryer). Keep any clothes you’ve worn that may still have pollen on it away from your bedroom. Take your car to a car wash regularly, especially if you park it outside. Invest in good air filters for your home.
6. Keep your head up, literally: Keep your head elevated to help you breathe better at night. Invest in good pillows or double-up on what you have. Use a “wedge” pillow under young kids’ regular pillows to elevate their heads a bit during their sleep.
7. Avoid outside time: Know the time of day when allergen levels are at their highest. For pollen, for example, that tends to be early to mid-morning. Remember that rain is your friend: the times right after a rain shower are often the best to venture out, as pollen levels can go significantly down.
8. Check the pollen forecast: Pollen.com, The Weather Channel website (with Flonase), and the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology all have free online pollen count forecasts, searchable by location. Check one or more of these daily (and the night before) to help you plan your day. If you’ve had allergy tests and know which trees, weeds, and grasses you’re allergic to, you can see if this is a bad day for the type of pollen that affects you the most. Also remember to check the pollen forecasts for places where you plan to travel!
9. Keep a tidy yard: Maintain your grass neat and trim, and remove any weeds around your garden. If you maintain your yard yourself, consider hiring lawn professionals, at least for the season, to do this work for you to reduce your exposure to pollen.
10. Wear caps or hats with a brim and glasses when outside: The more you can keep the pollen from getting on your hair or in your face, the better. Be sure to wash or wipe these when you come in, or at least keep them out of your bedroom.
11. Dry off completely before going out: Don’t leave the house with wet or damp hair or damp skin (including from recently applied skin lotion or sunscreen), especially if you’ll be outside — you’d just be making it easier for pollen to stick to you!
12. Don’t let pets bring in pollen! Remember pollen will also get on pets who have been outside. If your pets have spent any time outdoors, at least wipe them down with a damp towel to get some of the pollen off their fur. Even if you have an indoor pet who only goes outside very rarely and briefly (as is the case with our cat), clean it up a bit as soon as it’s in the house. Yes, I have wiped down my cat with an unscented baby wipe just for this. No, he was not too happy about it.
5 Extra Tips for Caring for Your Kids
First, don’t assume that if your child is sick it’s “just allergies.” If you have serious symptoms typically not associated with allergies (such as a fever), call a doctor. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between allergies and a cold, as Dr. Bill Incatasciato of Capital Area Pediatrics points in this article, so always check with your physician.
Next, remember is that kids’ bodies are different from adults and that means everything from the dosage to the precise type of medication will vary significantly by your child’s age and/or weight. You should not give any medication or even homeopathic treatments to your child without consulting a doctor first. Once you have, here are some other tips to keep in mind, along with our earlier suggestions.
1. Keep outside toys outside: Be careful about how you may be dragging pollen in via toys or equipment. Do you bring the stroller or toy wagon into the house? Have the kids brought in sports equipment they were playing with outside? Keep outside toys out; for anything that you must bring into the house, wipe it clean right away at least with a damp cloth.
2. Pick outside activities carefully: This website is all about family fun and certainly my own family does not hibernate during the spring. While we do drastically reduce our outside activities this time of year, we don’t eliminate them. Instead, we usually pick no more than one or two outside activities per week and try to do them on the “best” day when pollen counts are predicted to be lower. We also try to choose activities from which we can return home right away to shower, take our medicines/treatments, and have the inevitable nap (allergies tend to knock us out!), and wet avoid being outside for too long at one time. If your kids have allergies, find the best way to limit or manage their outside time without skipping out on spring altogether.
3. Have a nightly bath no matter what: In the spring, we are near-militant about a nightly bath no matter what, no matter how late, to get rid of any pollen (remember, it gets on your hair!). Bonus: Running hot water in the shower to create a steam room effect just before bath time works as a natural decongestant to clear sinuses (keep the bathroom door closed to trap the steam, keep the tub drain open, and remember to adjust the temperature before the actual bath).
4. Don’t over-schedule: When people think of allergies, what first may come to mind is sneezing, wheezing, coughing, a sore throat, itchy eyes, itchy skin, and headaches. But fatigue also can be a symptom of allergies. On top of this, some antihistamines and other medicines also can make you sleepy. Because of this, be sure to give your bodies enough rest and that your kids have plenty of daily “down time” at home.
5. Avoid recess at school: Yes, kids need socializing and exercising. Yes, kids need natural sunlight for vitamin D. But these benefits mean nothing if your kids are going to be physically and emotionally miserable from allergies and getting so sick that they miss days of school. Remember, the best way to keep allergy symptoms down is to avoid exposure to the allergens in the first place, and often that means limiting time outside, including during recess. On high-pollen days, you can request that your child stay indoors during that time.
Schools should accommodate this request, but remember that it’s up to you to be on top of this. School staff are busy and aren’t going to track the pollen counts (which is different from tracking bad air-quality days when they may keep all kids inside). YOU are your child’s advocate and know his or her symptoms best. If you know your child’s allergies start getting bad when pollen levels are just at “medium” and not yet “high,” for example, it’s up to you to send a note if you want to keep your child indoors that day.
Keep in mind that during a missed recess, your kids may end up just waiting in the clinic or in the office. Be sure they have a book to read or some other productive way to pass the time. Also note that if skipping recess or outside time will happen often, your school may request a note from your doctor.
Finally, please remember that local school districts such as Fairfax County Public Schools have very strict rules about medications (what they can administer, what kids may or may not bring, and what forms are required) so never just send your child to school with any medicine, even OTC ones. Check with your school office and know the rules!
Whew, this was a long post, but now you know just about everything I do! Have any questions? I could go into more detail on any of these and would be happy to answer your questions! Anything I missed? Ideas to share? Comment below and let’s help each other get through this allergy season! 🙂
PS: This post is informational only and is not in any way sponsored by or affiliated with any of the companies or websites listed.