For many people, spring is the season of sniffles. Experts say that some 40% of kids in the United States suffer from allergies.
Called hay fever, spring allergies actually have nothing to do with hay. Plant and tree pollen, which is released into the air, can cause sneezing, congestion, coughing, wheezing and itchy eyes.
"Your body is reacting against something in the environment, like pollen, or cat fur or dust mites," explains Dr. Robert Roberts, an associate professor of pediatrics at UCLA. Some kids think they have a constant cold, when, in fact, they are allergic to something outside or in their homes.
"If your runny nose gets worse at night, it's probably allergies," says Roberts. A doctor needs to examine you, however, to rule out other possible problems, such as a sinus infection, he says.
There are different allergy treatments, from nasal sprays, to shots to pills. Some medicines can make you sleepy, which could be a problem on school days. When the pollen count is high, it sometimes helps to stay inside in an air-conditioned room.
Allergy symptoms can range from annoying to serious. Some allergic kids develop asthma, which is on the rise in the United States. Breathing difficulties require medical treatment and never should be ignored.
Another problem area for kids is food allergies. Reactions to such foods as peanuts, eggs or chocolate can be severe, and it's very important to avoid eating them. If you know you are allergic to peanuts, you probably have learned to read food labels. Some candies that do not contain peanuts still come with a warning label, because they are made in a factory that uses peanut products. Baked goods can be made with peanut oil, but the only way to know this is by reading the list of ingredients. Don't ever take a chance and guess. If you are unsure of what is in a particular food, don't eat it.
Roberts says allergic kids should not share lunches, because they have no way of knowing what's in someone else's meal. He also recommends that kids with severe food allergies wear a medical alert bracelet. Talk with your doctor about getting one. Some kids carry a special injection device, which they use in case of a serious allergic reaction. Again, your doctor will know if this is right for you.
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