Your child has an itchy nose that's running like a faucet. She has no fever, but she's sneezing, producing several ka-choos in a row. Her eyes are teary, red and swollen. All in all, she's just plain miserable.
''Hay fever,'' you think, and you may be right (although children under five aren't usually allergic to pollen). But what if it's the dead of winter with nary a blossom in sight
Instead of reacting to pollen, your child may be allergic to something that floats around in the air year-round: dust mites, mold or animal dander. When a child is allergic to something she inhales, her body overreacts by releasing chemicals such as histamine that cause unpleasant side effects--congestion, itching, dripping and sneezing.
So what can you do Most allergy specialists agree that allergy prevention begins in the home. '' We put our major emphasis on avoiding contact with the allergen, which is a cheap and effective form of allergy treatment,''
The first step is to go to the allergist's office, where your child can be tested to find out what allergens are causing the problems. After your child's allergies are diagnosed, here's what you can do to help solve the problem.
|When to See the Doctor|
If keeping your child away from whatever causes the allergy isn't adequate to quell symptoms, your physician will recommend other measures. ''The second line of defense is medication, which can be effective but may have side effects. Finally, we turn to allergy shots if the first two fail,''
You may be able to treat your child with over-the-counter products, but you must ask your physician about the amount and type of medication to use.
''Antihistamines work best if your child has symptoms such as sneezing, itching and watery eyes,'' . But antihistamines can make your child sleepy, decrease her ability to concentrate and cause dry mouth. ''Decongestants, on the other hand, will help open a stuffy nose, but won't help with a runny nose or sneezing. They may suppress appetite or cause insomnia, jitters or irritability,''
Many over-the-counter preparations are antihistamine/decongestant combinations, which can provide more relief, but also more side effects. Your physician will tell you what to try or prescribe other treatment if the over-the-counter products don't work.
But never allow your child to use over-the-counter nose drops,. These drops cause the lining of the nose to shrink. This brings temporary relief, but the inflammation will soon recur, often worse than it was to begin with. There are prescription drops that work well, so consult your doctor if your child needs extra hay fever relief.
For Dust Mite Allergies
prepare to make changes. ''Lots of kids are allergic to the droppings of the house dust mite, a microscopic insect that lives wherever dust collects, such as on upholstery, pillows, stuffed animals and carpeting,'' . To decrease contact with dust mite droppings, you'll have to make some modifications in your furnishings--and probably change the way you clean the house.
Vinyl-wrap the bedding. Encase your child's mattress, box spring and pillow with vinyl-backed covers available at many discount and department stores. ''Allergy supply companies make fancy ones that you can order, but for kids, the inexpensive vinyl covers are fine,''
Tape the zippers. Dr. Tinkelman recommends finishing the vinyl treatment by putting tape over the zippers of all the vinyl covers. That way, the dust mites within the bed and pillow can't get out. Either duct tape or wide, heavy-duty plastic sealing tape will do the job.
Get rid of feathers and down. ''Feather and down pillows and quilts are a haven for dust mites,'' ''Instead, switch to cotton blankets and foam or polyester pillows that are washable.''
Use hot water. Wash all of your child's bedding frequently in very hot water,. The hot water kills the mites and gets rid of the droppings. Use the hot water wash and rinse, and make sure you do all the bedding--mattress cover and blankets as well as sheets. It's best to launder bedding every one to two weeks.
Beware of floor coverings. Carpets and rugs are a favorite mite hideout. ''Take the carpet out of your child's bedroom,'' . ''Instead, use a cotton scatter rug, which can be washed regularly in hot water.''
Treat remaining carpets. It may not be practical to strip the carpets from your entire house, but you can keep them allergen-free. Treat your rugs and carpets with Allergy Control Solution, a 3 percent tannic acid solution. It's often used along with Acarosan, a product that actually reduces the mite population in carpets, Both these products must be applied every three months to be effective, following instructions on the package.
Change vacuum cleaner bags. While it's important to vacuum frequently, you first need to make an important change. ''Replace your usual disposable vacuum bag with one that's made of special paper that actually traps allergenic mite particles,'' - '' When you use a conventional vacuum bag, you're actually picking up the allergenic particles and blowing them into the air, making the situation worse.'' The allergen-trapping bags--one brand is Hysurf--can be found in a few stores where vacuum cleaners are sold or from National Allergy Supply, 4400 Georgia Highway, 120, p.O. Box 1658, Duluth, Georgia 30136.
Ditch the drapes. ''Drapes and venetian blinds are big dust collectors,'' says Dr. LoGalbo. It's okay to replace them with washable curtains, but it's even better if you just install a pull-down shade that can be wiped off, says Dr. Gruchalla.
Rid stuffed animals of mites. Because dust mites can abound in the fur of stuffed animals, it's best to move them out of your child's bedroom. But if your child is attached to one special toy, you can demite it with either the hot or cold treatment, according to Dr. Tinkelman. ''Dust mites can't live in extremes of temperature,'' he says. ''Treat the stuffed animal to a soaking in the hot water cycle of your washing machine, or put it inside a plastic bag and leave it in the freezer overnight.''
You may want to let your child choose another stuffed animal occasionally, switching off between favorites. If you buy more, to make things easier, select ones that will withstand machine washing and drying.
Change sleeping arrangements. Sleeping on the bottom bunk of a bunk bed or under a canopy is a no-no, says Dr. Tinkelman. ''Kids love canopies and bunk beds, but so do dust mites,'' he observes. Mites live both in the upper mattress of the bunk bed and in the dust that collects on top of a canopy.
pay attention to closets. ''Closets are rarely cleaned and aired, and they tend to be dust mines,'' notes Dr. LoGalbo. Any closet the child uses should be vacuumed every time the rest of the room is. If you have little-used closets with old toys or papers, keep the closet door closed all the time.
Dry up. ''Mites love humidity,'' says Dr. Williams. ''If you can keep the humidity below 50 percent, you can go a long way to reduce mite problems. Invest in a room dehumidifier for your child's bedroom.''
For Mold Allergies
Buy a humidity gauge. Mold also flourishes anywhere there's high humidity, according to Dr. Williams. To stop mold allergens, measure the humidity in your home and use a dehumidifier, says Dr. LoGalbo.
Ventilate. ''Get some fresh air circulating in the house, especially in the bathrooms and kitchen where mold tends to grow,'' says Dr. LoGalbo. Window fans or ceiling fans help to circulate air.
Take books out of the bedroom. ''Mold spores are known to inhabit books,'' says Gilbert Friday, M.D., professor of pediatrics and chief of clinical services of the Asthma and Allergic Disease Center at the Children's Hospital of pittsburgh. ''For kids who are allergic to molds, it's best to keep books either in a glass-doored bookcase or out of the bedroom altogether. At the very least, dust the books frequently.''
Use mold-killing cleaners. ''Choose cleaners such as Lysol that inhibit mold growth,'' suggests Dr. LoGalbo. Also, you can make a mold-fighting mixture by adding a few spoonfuls of commercial bleach to a bucket of water. Just scrub damp areas and other surfaces with the bleach mixture to discourage mold. ( Use rubber gloves to protect your hands.)
Lay off the leaves. There's mold aplenty in piles of fallen leaves. Discourage your allergic child from rolling in or playing near leaf piles, advises Dr. Shapiro.
For pet Allergies
Move pets out. Kids can be allergic to dander, the dead skin from your pets. Cats, in particular, cause some of the worst problems because they lick themselves so often, says Dr. Friday, and when the saliva dries, the allergens from the saliva become airborne.
''Ideally, family pets such as cats and dogs should live outside,'' says Dr. Williams. If your pet can't live outside, you should consider finding it a new home.
Ban pets from bedrooms. If moving a pet outside isn't practical and your family can't bear to give up the animal, put some limits on its territory. It's most important to keep the pet out of the child's bedroom, says Jonathan Becker, M.D., a pediatrician and senior research fellow at the University of Washington in Seattle.
''pets such as hamsters, guinea pigs and gerbils should be removed from the bedroom, too, because their droppings can get mold or fungi growing in them, which some kids are also allergic to,'' says Dr. Friday. ''Even birds can pose a problem for allergic kids, because the flapping of their wings releases a fine powder of bird allergen into the air.''
Keep Fluffy out of the basement. Don't relocate your cat to the basement if you have forced air heat, says Dr. Friday. ''In a home that has forced air heat, the cat allergen, which is very light, would go right up through the heating system and be blown around the whole house,'' he says.
Wash your cat. ''preliminary research suggests that if you wash your cat every week for at least eight weeks with plain water or shampoo and water, you remove the surface allergens that come from its saliva. Unfortunately, you really must wash the animal every week--forever--to get continued benefit from this treatment,'' says Dr. Shapiro.
The problem is that it's difficult to get most adult cats to endure one bath, let alone a bath once a week. You'll have the most success with cat washing if you start when your pet is just a kitten.
For pollen Allergies
Air condition. Your child will not be able to avoid all contact with pollen, which is prevalent during the spring and late summer. But his nights can be more restful if you have an air conditioner in his room, according to Dr. LoGalbo. ''It's hard to resist the temptation to keep the windows open when the nights are cool and fresh,'' he admits, ''but that lets the pollen pour into your child's room, and he'll wake up miserable.''
Schedule outdoor playtime. The middle of the day is the best time for hay fever--prone kids to play outside. ''There is a higher concentration of pollen in the early morning,'' says Dr. Friday. ''As the air heats up it rises and takes the pollen with it. In the evening, when the air gets cool again, the pollen settles back down, too. So the best time to let your kids play outside is somewhere in between.''
Roll up car windows. '' You get a higher concentration of pollen if you drive with the windows open,'' says Dr. Friday. ''If your allergic child is in the car, it's best to use the air conditioner during the pollen season.'
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