It’s once again that time of year in the Willamette Valley when the pollen released by grass and hay is at its yearly peak (apparently we even set a record last week for pollen counts). We are in an agricultural area here, with towns and cities surrounded by farmland … much of which is used to grow hay or as pasture for livestock. (Fun fact: hay is just tall grass). If you aren’t allergic to grass pollen, consider yourself lucky! For those who are, there are a number of steps you can take for yourself and for your children.
First of all, avoid the pollen if you can. Stay inside, preferably in an air-conditioned space, as much as possible. Don’t let allergic children sleep in a bedroom with the window open at night unless that is the only way you have to keep them cool. If children are outside for play, sports, school activities, or chores, have them wash their hands and face as soon as they come in and encourage them to take a shower or bath before bed to get the pollen off. And remember those N95 face masks from the pandemic? They also do a bang-up job of filtering out pollen!
Then there are all of the medications. The allergy aisle of your supermarket or pharmacy can be confusing, but there are basically only a few categories of medications that you need to know about. First, your child (and you) can take a once-daily non-sedating antihistamine. These medications help relief symptoms such as a runny nose and itchy eyes by counteracting histamines in your entire body. These are: loratadine (also known as Claritin), cetirizine (also known as Zyrtec), and fexofenadine (also known as Allegra). All are great products. Buy a generic version, follow the package directions, and you’re set. All come in child-friendly forms and all are available without a prescription. Don’t confuse these newer medications with products like diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimetron), which have to be given every six hours and cause significant sedation (fun fact: these medications are the active ingredient in over-the-counter ‘sleeping pills’). You do NOT need a decongestant; those drugs can give some temporary relief but they tend to cause side effects and over time your nose gets so used to them that you will have a stuffy nose without them even if it’s no longer allergy season.
If the antihistamine by itself doesn’t bring relief or for those with moderate to severe symptoms, we recommend an allergy steroid nasal spray. These products soothe the inflamed lining of the nose and sinuses in much the same way that hydrocortisone soothes an itchy skin rash. Fluticasone (Flonase) is one of the most commonly available but you will find others on the shelf and they all work. Follow the package directions.
Finally, you can round out your allergy toolbox with eyedrops, if you or your children have itchy, watery, red eyes. There are lots of products out there so make sure you are buying one that is designed to treat allergies. We use a lot of ketotifen (Zaditor). For a humorous trip down the eye medication aisle, you can get some great insider information from Dr. Glaucomflecken at https://www.youtube.com/shorts/EU0h1DBIqmU
All of these products discussed in this article are available over the counter without a prescription. They are the ‘state of the art’ for allergy meds. We promise that we aren’t holding out on you by not giving you some kind of new prescription allergy medication … we are taking the same medications as you are.
Parents often ask about seeing an allergist to get allergy testing and ‘allergy shots’. Allergy testing and immunotherapy have their place but they are a very long term solution and won’t help you or your child right away; plus we don’t have a lot of allergists in the area and it’s a long wait to see one. Your best bet is to use the medications discussed here, and plan to start them next spring at the first sign of symptoms or even before they start.