It’s that time of year again! During this cold, rainy season that Seattle is best known for, what can mean for our kids, their allergies, and their overall health?
This season, children will likely have a sniffly nose, and the question is: is it a cold or is it allergies? That’s right! Sniffles might not be a cold or a virus caught at school. During winter, we tend to lock ourselves in, closing windows and doors, and blasting indoor heating, creating prime conditions for indoor allergies to flare. Indoor allergies have symptoms and can exacerbate other conditions including asthma, so they’re well worth understanding.
Common indoor allergens in the Pacific Northwest typically include dust mite, cat, dog and – in some cases – mold and rodents. Someone reacting to those allergens might experience itchy eyes, runny nose, itchy nose, itchy inner ears, nasal congestion, sneezing, cough, wheezing, shortness of breath, itchy skin or rashes.
COLD VS. ALLERGY
So how can you distinguish the common cold from allergies?
The answer isn’t always straightforward but itching can be a tipoff that you’re dealing with allergies. Other clues could be: sneezing, postnasal drip, nasal congestion, and watery or red eyes. If symptoms seem to last without periods of wellness then allergy is a possibility. Allergy symptoms vary from person to person so, for example, the way one child in your family reacts to dust or animal dander may be different than another. Some individuals may not show symptoms unless there is regular or daily exposure to that allergen. To diagnose allergies, families may consider the option of testing by a qualified allergist who is certified to correctly interpret those tests. However, testing is not always necessary. It is recommended to discuss your child’s symptoms with their health care provider to determine the best approach.
INDOOR ALLERGENS & HOW TO REDUCE THEM
Here are some common indoor allergens and best practices:
Dust mites: These tend to lurk in mattresses and bedsheets. Wash your family’s bedding weekly in HOT water. Consider getting dust-proof zipped covers for mattresses and pillows. Dust mites thrive in high humidity, so de-humidifiers and air conditioners can help. Installing a High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filter can also help increase the effectiveness.
Mold: Mold flourishes in high humidity spaces, so aim to keep things dry.
** Humidifiers are often recommended for kids and dryness. While they can be helpful, ideally you don’t want more than 50% humidity.
Pets: Carpets become a reservoir for pet proteins that trigger allergy. Keep the house well-ventilated with a high-performance filter. Frequently wash the pet. Wash your hands after pet contact, including under the nails. Remember that vertical surfaces, such as walls, can also collect cat dander, so wiping down the walls every few months is a good idea.
Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema): With the heat turned on in our homes, the humidity can drop. Although this may be good for allergen control, it may not be good for our skin. Physical contact to allergens may cause atopic dermatitis, or eczema, which is a chronic allergic skin disorder. It starts as an itch and, if scratched, develops into a rash characterized by dry, itchy, scaly skin. You might see this on the cheeks, arms, legs, creases behind the ears, and buttocks. At this point, your child’s health care provider may recommend that you see an allergist or dermatologist to confirm what’s going on and, if it’s allergy, to identify specific aggravators.
Since eczema is characterized by dry, itchy skin, you’ll want to hydrate your child’s skin daily with moisturizers. Bathe them daily in lukewarm (not hot) water. Avoid washcloths and loofahs as well as bubble baths or bath oils with fragrance. When you take them out of the tub, pat the skin dry (instead of rubbing) and apply a thick layer of moisturizer while the skin is still damp, typically within three minutes. Moisturizers like Vaseline, Eucerin, Vanicream, Cetaphil, Cerave, Aveeno and even cocoa butter are recommended. Avoid lotions that contain fragrance, water and/or alcohol as they may be irritating to sensitive skin.
Enjoy being cozy inside with your family this winter. By understanding your indoor allergies and taking steps to control them, you can make this winter your healthiest yet.
Dr. David Naimi is a pediatric allergy and asthma specialist at Northwest Asthma & Allergy Center, with offices throughout Washington. He is also the proud father of a 6-month-old PEPS alumnus! For more information, please visit NWAsthma.com.