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Birds chirping, trees and flowers blooming, longer days--everyone gets antsy at the splendorous signs of spring. But for the child with seasonal allergies, spring also means a runny nose, itchy eyes, and a scratchy throat, which can make it difficult to breath, concentrate, or even sleep. Even worse, over time, these symptoms may lead to chronic ear infections and asthma. And while over-the-counter antihistamines can bring some immediate symptom relief, side effects such as drowsiness may disrupt ordinary activity as much as the allergies themselves. Support your child's comfort with a holistic approach that addresses lifestyle, environment, diet, and supplements to minimize allergen exposure, balance the body's natural systems, and reduce symptoms.
Time it right
Prevention goes a long way with allergy management, so think ahead and take some steps before your child is miserable with symptoms. If your doctor has recommended a daily antihistamine, start it a week or two before pollen season is in full swing. Also, giving them before bed better supports the body during the high-pollen portion of the early morning.
No one wants to keep kids cooped up, especially during the spring and summer, but since pollen levels are usually highest between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m., it's best to keep kids inside until after levels peak. And once they come in from outdoor play, have them take off their pollen-covered clothes and put them directly in the wash. Hair and little bodies get covered in allergens too, so baths after playtime or before bed will keep kiddos from bringing allergens into bed and being needlessly exposed to an irritant for eight extra hours.
What kids put in their body can often make a big difference in symptom severity. Since allergies are an inflammatory response, minimizing inflammatory reactions to certain foods can lessen the burden. Many children have mild sensitivities to everyday foods--dairy and wheat, for example--that cause little, if any, day-to-day discomfort. However, throw in an annual dose of ragweed and the child's allergy response shifts into overdrive. The solution is to identify and eliminate such culinary culprits--at least during allergy season--to improve a child's ability to deal with the harder-to-avoid seasonal onslaught.
Keep it clean
It takes some effort, but making sure your living environment is free of the particles that cause allergies will go a long way toward supporting better balance. Start with clean surfaces and floors, and vacuumed rugs. Keep windows closed, and use air filters, especially in the bedroom. Keep pets out of sleeping areas, and wash clothes and bedding frequently and in hot water.
Visit your child's school and discuss her schedule with the teacher. Do they keep the windows open? Do they play at recess out in the grass? Find out what activities and environmental factors may be contributing to your child's symptoms and explore alternatives that may help during the season.
While it can take a little getting used to, rinsing kids' nasal passages can help clear them of allergens such as pollen, dust mites, or dander. One 2009 study of children with allergies found that nasal irrigation with saline decreased the need for steroidal sprays. A traditional way to do this is using a teapot-shaped device called a neti pot filled with a solution of sterile (boiled or bottled), lukewarm water and salt (sea salt works best). (Sterility is important, as a dangerous infection has occurred in Lousiana, USA.) With head tilted, the saline mixture can be poured up one nostril and allowed to flow in such a way that it comes out the other nostril. Try it in the bath or shower for less potential mess, or try a sterile saline spray, which can sometimes be easier for kids to use.
Support the body's systems
They aren't quick fixes, but regularly taking the following supplements may boost the immune system, minimize inflammation, and greatly reduce the agony of seasonal allergies.
Fatty Acids--Fatty acids are what surround the cells in the body--like a strong, protective barrier. Most of us--especially kids--don't get enough omega-3s. Supplementing with essential fatty acids does double duty: it builds strong cells, and tames inflammation should an allergic reaction occur.
Probiotics--Having enough friendly bacteria in the body is proving to be one of the best defenses against a host of conditions, including allergies. In fact, a recent study in Indian Pediatrics found symptoms such as runny nose and watery eyes markedly diminished in children with allergies who were given a probiotic supplement containing Lactobacillus salivarius.
Nettle--Stinging nettle is a plant that may sooth symptoms like drippy noses and itchy eyes. Nettle works like an antihistamine, and can be consumed as a tea or taken in pill or tincture form, as directed.
Quercetin-- Limited preliminary clinical research has suggested that this flavonoid with antioxidant, antihistamine, and anti-inflammatory properties may sooth allergy symptoms. Adding vitamin C may also help.
A nutritional anthropologist by training, Linda Knittel works as a nutritional counselor and health writer. She writes regularly about nutrition, alternative medicine, traditional diets, yoga, and fitness for many national publications.
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