The dreaded symptoms of allergies (stuffy nose, sneezing, watery eyes) are most often triggered during the spring and summer months. The question on many parents’ minds: How do you distinguish between the symptoms caused by allergies and the symptoms caused by other illnesses that tend to go around this time of year?

“Allergies can sometimes cause a cough or a sore throat, but they don’t cause fevers or aches and pains like a cold can,” said Benjamin Danielson, MD, a pediatrician and medical director of Seattle Children’s Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic (OBCC). “Persistent congestion, sneezing, itchy or watery eyes, and a runny nose with clear mucus are all symptoms that would indicate sensitivities to allergens, especially when they appear suddenly or sporadically throughout the year.”

Testing for allergy sensitivity

The first step in determining if a child suffers from allergies may be an allergy test, performed by the child’s doctor. Allergy tests can be ineffective on children under the age of 5, but parents will want to be on the lookout for any possible allergy symptoms when their child is around age 3 or 4, especially if there is a history of allergies in the family.

“Dust mite allergies are the most common trigger in the Pacific Northwest,” said Danielson. “If this is the case, simply purchasing a hypoallergenic liner for your child’s mattress and pillow case will keep your child from being exposed to dust mites while they are sleeping.”

After dust mites, pollen, mold, pets and cockroaches round out the list of the most common allergies. Some people may be quite sensitive to one allergen in particular, and others may have their symptoms flare up only when exposed to a certain combination of several at the same time.

“This is why allergy testing is so important,” said Danielson. “Trying to treat symptoms of allergies without knowing what allergen is causing them can get expensive as well as frustrating for parents.”

Establishing a routine

Once your child’s allergens are identified and you’ve made changes to their environment, experiment with other ways to prevent flare-ups and establish an effective routine to manage symptoms.

“It sounds obvious, but different people have different bodies, and different treatments work well for some and not for others,” said Danielson. “In the process of trying different methods of prevention, parents will find a combination of treatments that work best for them.”

Danielson recommends the following:

  • Regular use of allergy medicine like Claritin or something similar. A lot of the over-the-counter medicines aren’t great at rescuing a child during an allergy attack, but are effective at keeping your child stabilized
  • Moving stuffed animals out of your child’s bed and bedroom
  • Washing bedding weekly in hot water
  • Vacuuming, mopping and dusting each week
  • More frequent face washing and showering
  • Closing windows, especially for those kids with pollen sensitivities

An evolving process

Once a routine is established, Danielson said it is important to remember that people’s allergy spectrums change over time. As your child gets older, they could gain sensitivity to new allergens.

“Hypersensitives like allergies can also be accompanied by asthma as well as significant sleep problems, so it is very important for parents to pay attention to their child’s quality of sleep.” said Danielson. “Disruptions in your child’s sleep patterns can cause a lot of issues. We’ve had parents bring in their children citing their inability to focus, and other symptoms more commonly associated with ADHD, that were actually the result of a lack of sleep due to allergy and asthma symptoms.”

Though dealing with allergies can be frustrating for parents and children alike, by working with their pediatrician and doing a little detective work on their own, parents can dramatically reduce the detrimental effects that the allergy symptoms can have on their children.