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Health Tips for Parents

2005 Issues

How do I know if my child has allergies?

Spring is fast approaching, and along with warmer weather and budding flowers comes another signature of the season: allergies! The onset of nasal allergies, also known as allergic rhinitis or hay fever, may appear in children as young as 2 to 3 years of age, says Robert Roberts, M.D., Ph.D., pediatric allergist and immunologist at Mattel Children's Hospital at UCLA. Allergy symptoms differ from a virus or other type of infection:

  • Itchy eyes tend to be associated more with allergies than colds.

  • Runny nose fluid due to allergies tends to stay clear.

  • Fever or hoarse voice are not symptoms of allergies.

  • Many children with allergies have parents or siblings with allergies.

Outdoor Allergies

Symptoms of outdoor allergies appear in spring when trees, grass and flowers pollinate, scattering irritants throughout the air. Pollen attaches itself to mast cells that line the nose and lungs. Then the mast cells release histamine, which causes allergic symptoms such as congestion, sneezing, itchy eyes and runny nose. Some strategies to control outside allergies, include:

  • Close your child's bedroom window.

  • Bathe and wash your child's hair every night.

  • Do not use clothes more than once without washing them if your child has played outside.

Indoor Allergies

Symptoms of indoor allergies, which appear year-round, are often the same as outdoor allergies with one telltale difference: congestion in the morning due to exposure to dust mites during the night. Indoor allergies may appear earlier in a child's life, perhaps by age 2. Dust mites, cockroaches, molds and pet dander are some of the common indoor irritants. These microscopic particles can be found practically anywhere; even in a clean house! To limit a child's exposure to these allergens:

  • Limit the amount of carpeting in a house; allergens are difficult to remove from carpeting.

  • Keep your child's mattress and box spring covered with a zip-up vinyl case to prevent exposure to dust mites.

  • Replace cloth drapes and curtains with vertical blinds.

  • Use an air purifier with a high efficiency particulate-arresting (HEPA) filter.

  • Bathe the family dog or cat weekly. Keep the pet out of your child's bedroom.

Treating Allergies

Over-the-counter antihistamines are effective for treating allergy symptoms. Many antihistamines, however, have a sedative effect. Check with your pediatrician to make sure that an antihistamine is appropriate and to determine the correct dosage for your child's age. If symptoms occur daily, ask your pediatrician about nonsedating prescription drugs or nasal steroids. A child with severe allergic reactions may benefit from an allergy test to identify specific antigens, or substances that can trigger an allergic reaction. During an allergy test, a small plastic grid is placed on the child's back, testing simultaneously for several antigens, such as pet dander, dust mites and pollen. If, after 15 minutes, a reaction occurs, the child is allergic to that particular allergen. When nasal allergies worsen, children may become more prone to asthma. Therefore, proper diagnosis and treatment are crucial.


This information is provided courtesy of the pediatricians at the Mattel Children’s Hospital at UCLA. UCLA Healthcare pediatricians are conveniently located in your neighborhood. In addition to our Children’s Health Center in Westwood, we have offices in Brentwood, Culver City, Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica, and West Los Angeles. Additional information can be found on the UCLA Healthcare web site at www.healthcare.ucla.edu or by calling 1-800-UCLA-MD1 (1-800-825-2631).

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