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Posted on Wed, Apr 27, 2011 : 12:27 p.m.

Is it allergies or is it a cold? What you need to know about springtime symptoms in kids



Melissa Ayoub Heinen, DO, MPH

This time of year seems to be appreciated by most who live in Michigan. The children can finally begin to go out to play and families can spend some quality time outdoors.

Unfortunately, along with the onset of spring comes the sneezing, the coughing and the itchy, watery eyes. For most parents, the hardest part is trying to distinguish these typical symptoms from a cold.

Generally speaking, if your child does not have a fever and the sneezing and watery eyes occur every year around the same time, it is usually seasonal allergies. Children with seasonal allergies can also manifest signs of dark circles under their eyes, called “allergic shiners,” or little wrinkles in the middle of their nose because they are constantly taking the palm of their hand and wiping their nose upward, commonly referred to as the “allergic salute.”

In Michigan, different seasons sprout different allergens, which are the substances that cause allergy symptoms.

In the first few weeks of spring, the pollen coming from trees (elm, maple and birch) are likely to blame. In late spring and summer, grass pollens and some weeds begin to spread throughout the air. By late summer and fall more weeds, especially ragweed, produce their strongest pollen, usually until the first frost.

In the fall, some molds will also develop due to decaying leaves. Molds can be found year-round whenever conditions are damp and humid.

Allergens can irritate the body and activate what is called the histamine response. This gives children the symptoms of sneezing, itchy watery eyes and scratchy throat.

If these symptoms persist, they can start to cause swelling or inflammation symptoms in the nasal passages. Thick mucus can block the nasal passages, and infection can develop.

Seasonal allergies may also trigger asthma or wheezing, or they may complicate eczema. For children and adults alike, nasal saline flush is best to open blocked passages. Medication for seasonal allergies usually begins with a trial of antihistamine oral medicines.

Studies have shown, however, that nasal sprays can be more effective at treating seasonal allergic symptoms because they prevent the allergen from triggering the histamine response right at the source.

There are also natural ways to combat seasonal allergies, such as air-conditioners and indoor air filters. Some research has shown that citrus fruits rich in vitamin C may provide antihistamine benefits and help reduce allergy symptoms.

If a child has repeated symptoms around the same time every year, it may be helpful to discuss with your pediatrician if your child may have seasonal allergies. If the symptoms persist, allergy testing is also an option to try to figure out exactly which allergens to avoid.

Melissa Ayoub Heinen, DO, MPH, is a board-certified pediatrician practicing at IHA Livingston Pediatrics. Dr. Heinen has clinical interest in preventive care, public health, vaccines, special-needs children, autism, and ADHD. IHA Livingston Pediatrics is located at 2305 Genoa Business Park Drive, Suite 240, Brighton. Dr. Heinen can be reached at 810-494-6820. For more information or to read more posts from the IHA Cares Blog, please visit



Sat, Apr 30, 2011 : 10:32 p.m.

We definitely believe in natural remedies and since our son used to have such severe eczema from allergies, we always try to take precautions. We eat lots of whole foods, drink water and green tea and take our Belly Boost (probiotic that helped our son's skin so much) in hopes of keeping our bodies strong and immunities boosted. We also use air conditioning and air filters indoors. The bummer is that we cant always hang our clothes outside since that can bring the pollen etc indoors. Oh well, we do what we can! Great tips :)