Kids are meant to run and play outside with their friends. But when the great outdoors is the cause of a constant runny nose and itchy eyes and throat, what’s a parent to do? There’s no need to keep your little ones inside. A few healthy habits and over-the-counter medications should bring them relief.

“The goal of treatment is to try to ensure that your child is as comfortable as they can possibly be, that their play isn’t interrupted, and that their sleep isn’t interrupted,” says Elizabeth Matsui, MD, pediatric allergist and immunologist at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore. 

Try to relieve your child’s symptoms with the simplest way first, and, if you need to, work your way up from there.

Away With Allergens

You can cut down on the seasonal allergens your kid is exposed to -- pollen, mold, etc. -- without curbing playtime outdoors. 

At the end of the day, make sure your child bathes from head to toe, including shampooing their hair. “You may not see it, but they’re bringing pollen with them indoors,” Matsui says. “You don’t want them to get into bed with that pollen on them.”

The entire family should take off their shoes when they come in the house to avoid tracking allergens in.

As much as you may love to keep the windows open in the spring and fall, if one of these is your child’s allergy season, keep them shut. “If possible, run the air conditioner. It has a filtering system,” Matsui says.

If your child wears contacts, switch them back to glasses during allergy season, Matsui recommends. They provide an extra barrier for their eyes.

“You’re not ever going to make exposure to allergens non-existent,” Matsui says. “The goal is to reduce it as much as possible.”

Try an Antihistamine

If limiting allergens isn’t enough, head to the pharmacy to look into over-the-counter allergy meds, like antihistamines.

Histamines are chemicals in the body releases in reaction to allergens like pollen. They make your nose run and your eyes water. Antihistamines can block these chemicals and stop the body’s reaction to allergens. They work quickly, so your kids can take them when they’re feeling bad.

Doctors recommend non-sedating antihistamines for kids. Those are the ones that won’t make them drowsy. They include cetirizine, fexofenadine, and loratadine. Avoid those that can make you drowsy, such as diphenhydramine.

“Antihistamines that make kids sleepy could affect their attentiveness, wakefulness, their school performance, and their sleep,” says Bryan Martin, DO, an allergist at Ohio State University. “They can make some kids hyperactive. We want to stay away from those.”

Add a Nasal Spray

Antihistamines can help relieve your child’s runny nose and itchy, watery eyes. But seasonal allergies can cause congestion, too. For that, kids might need a nasal steroid spray, such as budesonide, fluticasone, or triamcinolone.  

Unlike antihistamines, nasal steroids need a little more time to do their job. Give them a chance. “They need to be used every day. You may start to see a difference in a couple of days, but it may take as long as a couple of weeks for them to reach their maximum effectiveness,” Matsui says.

You might find that the nasal steroid alone relieves your child’s allergy symptoms and that you no longer need the antihistamines. “If the inhaled nasal steroid by itself doesn’t work, then add the antihistamine back in,” Martin says.

Think Twice About Natural Remedies

Many parents are tempted to try natural remedies when it seems like other options don’t work. Some people believe, for example, that eating local honey can cure a pollen allergy.

“From a scientific viewpoint that doesn’t make any sense because the pollen that bees carry is not the same kind that people are allergic to,” Martin says.

If over-the-counter allergy medications don’t bring relief, it’s probably time to see a doctor rather than reach for natural remedies.

“I completely understand why parents get frustrated and seek alternative therapies,” Matsui says, “but they are not helpful. They are often not regulated, so you don’t know what you’re getting.”

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