How to identify and manage winter allergies in children

Mountain cedar can start causing symptoms in kids as early as age 2

Cedar tree releasing pollen

Cedar tree releasing pollen

Ask an Austin allergist about winter allergies in children and he’ll likely start talking about cedar.

Mountain cedar is one of the most potent allergens in Central Texas and just about the only pollinator in the winter, according to ADC’s Dr. Scott Oberhoff. (Indoor allergens are year-round.)

Cedar starts making an appearance in mid to late December, and some seasons it can be very intense, depending on how rainy or dry it has been.

“Mountain cedar can be a really mean allergen,” Dr. Oberhoff said. “It has a tendency to cause a lot of reactivity even from people who generally don’t have allergies. Individuals who aren’t allergic to anything else may find themselves sensitized to cedar.”

Dr. Oberhoff, one of the two allergists at ADC, sees both adults and children for allergies. He says people of all ages are susceptible to cedar, and kids can start showing symptoms as early as age 2.

How can you tell if symptoms are allergic?

Dr. Oberhoff says it can be difficult to tell the difference between allergies and a cold because the symptoms can be similar.

Parents should watch for seasonal allergy symptoms including:

  • Significant itchiness to eyes and nose
  • Constant runny nose
  • Dark circles under the eyes
  • Crease above the nose
  • Recurring ear infections
  • Recurring sinus infections

If parents suspect seasonal allergies, they should go to an allergist to be diagnosed. An allergist may need to use a combination of skin testing and family history to figure out what’s causing a child’s symptoms.

Dr. Oberhoff says there are three ways to handle allergies:

  1. Avoid the allergens if you can.
  2. Use medications to help alleviate symptoms from the allergens you can’t avoid.
  3. Use immunotherapy (allergy shots) to teach the immune system not to react.

Are allergy medications safe for kids?

If taken properly and under a doctor’s supervision, medications like antihistamines can be very safe for children, but Dr. Oberhoff says it’s important to check with a doctor before giving a child under the age of 6 any medication.

“If it is allergy and you have the green light from a physician, most over-the-counter antihistamines are very safe,” Dr. Oberhoff said.

Dr. Oberhoff cautions against using herbal remedies, especially with children, because they could have negative effects if not taken properly.

What about taking honey, which is purported to help alleviate allergies?

“Although honey is not harmful in children over the age of one, the pollen in honey is pollen collected by insects, not air-driven pollen. Air-driven pollens are what you are allergic to,” he said. “Even though honey has lots of pollen, it’s not the right pollen, so you are not going to get what you need to help your allergies.”