Living in a dustbowl? Tips for managing your family’s allergies
The beauty of living in the susquehanna and cumberland valleys is obvious from the mountains that surround us. But living in a valley can also wreak havoc on those with allergies.
For many Central Penn parents, allergies seem inescapable. Your child may be allergic to flower pollen in the spring and tree pollen in the fall. “Kids have an autoimmune response meaning that the body recognizes the allergy is something it needs to fight off and they get the classic symptoms of runny nose, sinus congestion, red eyes, wheezing or bronchospasm,” said John Goldman, a Harrisburg internist. While avoidance is optimal, it is not always possible. “[Even though] pollen counts are high, it is hard to avoid going outside,” Goldman said.
Staying inside doesn’t always keep the sniffles and itchy eyes at bay. But families can take steps to reduce indoor allergens. “People who have a lot of allergies can get air filters for their furnace to filter out pollens,” Goldman said. And mattress covers to protect against dust mites are another good thing to purchase.
Other strategies include limiting exposure to pets, washing linens every one to two weeks in hot water, showering after coming in from outside and trying not to play in fields with tall grass or dead leaves.
When all else fails, turn to over-the-counter medications like Claritin and Zyrtec, antihistamines or nasal steroids. “For more severe cases, kids can do shots that gradually desensitize them to the allergen and stop the immune reaction,” Goldman said.
But it’s not always environmental causes that trigger allergies. It could be what you’re putting in your mouth. “A recent study from the American Academy of Pediatrics said that the prevalence of allergy is likely underestimated and eight percent or 5.9 million children have food allergies,” said Marykaye Flatley, dietician at Pinnacle Health System. Most problems are caused by peanuts, followed closely by shellfish and milk. “If you have a period of four to five days between new foods, you can look for skin symptoms like hives, or any gastrointestinal reaction, wheezing or extreme irritability,” Flatley said.
An allergist can do testing to confirm the allergy and make sure your child’s diet is not too restrictive.
If there is a food allergy, it’s important to make sure anyone who is serving your family food knows about it. “Make sure the teacher and other adults who are around the child ares aware of the allergy and know what signs to look for as far as anaphylaxis--a drop in blood pressure, rapid pulse, swelling of the throat, a constriction of airways and loss of consciousness,” Flatley said. Most kids with food allergies should have an EpiPen available with the school nurse.
Anyone who prepares or serves food should take precautions as well. “Clean all food preparation surfaces and utensils with hot, soapy water,” Flatley said.
Regardless of whether the allergy is indoor, outdoor or food-related, the message is the same. “It is all about education, planning, making sure you have the right referral and communication,” Flatley said.
Jamie Lober is a freelance writer who suffers from allergies.