Does your child (or another family member) suffer from seasonal allergies? Yvonne Walus shares five tips to cope.
Seasonal allergies, more commonly known as hay fever, are caused by pollen. All flowering plants like grasses, trees, and weeds manufacture pollen to reproduce. During the flowering season, there’s a lot of pollen in the air, so it’s easy for people to come into contact with it. The actual allergens are the 30-40 different proteins that coat the pollen grains. When your child inhales the pollen into their nasal passages or gets it on the membranes of their eyes, the immune system detects the “foreign” proteins, and sometimes goes into overdrive to get rid of them, producing histamine and causing itchy eyes, sneezing, or coughing.
1. Know your enemy
So how can you help? Start by figuring out what your child is allergic to, either by observation (for example, they always seem to sneeze when they play next to the privet tree at the back of the garden), or by asking your GP for an allergy test. (Keep in mind that the allergy test may be inconclusive before the child is two years old.) Once you know whatthe offending plant is, you can limit its existence on your property, and avoid walks in areas where the plant grows. The highest concentrations of pollen are within 10 metres of the plant, decreasing as you move away. This means that you can reduce your child’s exposure by staying away from the plant they’re allergic to while it’s flowering.
2. Know how the enemy operates
Pollen counts are usually the highest in the morning and in dry weather. Pollen counts also rise the day after a rainstorm because the moisture from the rain makes the pollen swell up and explode, while electrical charges from thunderstorms make it easier for allergen particles to access the lungs. Remember this before you open the window in the morning to let in the fresh air: You may be exposing your hometo fresh pollen. This also applies to opening car windows and letting your child play outside. Also, don’t hang your laundry outside, because pollen can stick to sheets, towels, and clothing. If you have indoor pets that roam outside, be mindful of the pollen they may carry in on their fur or paws.
Did you know
– Allery seasons have been getting worse due to the warmer weather we’ve been experiencing in the last few years.
– You can develop allergies at any age, so even if your child didn’t react to seasonal pollen until now, pay attention to any symptoms of hay fever.
– A pillen hazard forecast service is provided by Metservice (metservice.com). The pollen forecast is shown as “low”, “moderate”, or “high” for each New Zealand city or district. The allergenic pollen species presently flowering are also shown in the forecast.
3. Make your child comfortable
• Keep your child hydrated. Weak, warm tea with lemon and honey works well.
• Steamy showers may help relieve a blocked nose.
• Older children can gargle with salt water (one teaspoon of salt in half a cup of warm water) to relieve a sore throat. That same solution can be used as a nasal spray.
• Let them use top-quality tissues.
• Put healing ointment on raw and red noses.
4. Try alternative medicine
Are you willing to try natural remedies? Dr Libby Weaver, a nutritional biochemist, has a few suggestions. “If we slowly and surely build up our body’s resilience to an allergen, it can reduce our reactivity to it,” she says. “The bee pollen in honey can assist in desensitising your body to the pollen in the air.” There is a lot of anecdotal evidence this relieves allergies; however, it hasn’t been proved scientifically. Also, remember that babies under 12 months old shouldn’t eat honey or pollen.
Dr Libby also suggests including the following in your child’s diet: Sweet potato, watercress, broccoli, kale, and green tea, because studies have shown they can reduce the immune system’s reactivity to histamine. Similarly, omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish, walnuts, and flaxseed oil can help.
5. Consult your GP
• Contact the doctor if your child has any of the following symptoms:
• Hay fever that doesn’t improve with self-treatment.
• Raised temperature that does not subside.
• Nasal discharge that’s coloured, thick, or bloody.
• Very sore throat.
• Earache or ear discharge.
• Call 111 immediately if your child has difficulty breathing.
The pollen calendar
The full pollen season in New Zealand is approximately 34 weeks long, and varies in timings each year. Below is a guide to potential culprits.
– Many grass species
– Radiata pine
– Other pine species
– Native beech
All year round
– Fungal spores
– Dust mites
– Pet fur