If you have a kid with allergies, helping them enjoy summer takes a bit of work. Outdoor play means plenty of contact with plants in bloom as well as animals and substances that might trigger an allergic reaction. Cue itchy eyes, scratchy throats and runny noses.
But insisting kids stay indoors will ruin their summer (and yours, because bored, whining kids are no fun for anyone). That said, it’s totally possible to let them out in the sunshine and keep allergic reactions to a minimum.
We spoke to a few experts who gave us nine helpful tips and steps for helping kids with allergies all summer long.
1. Know your child
It sounds obvious, but not all kids with allergies are the same. “Knowing your child’s allergic triggers is the most important step,” says Dr. Sujan Patel, allergist and immunologist at NYU Langone Medical Center. “If pollen is the problem, then when indoors, running the air conditioning rather than opening windows will be beneficial, and the same applies when in the car.”
2. Check the pollen count
A weather app with a pollen count is a must for your smartphone, says primary care pediatrician and member of The Goddard School educational advisory board Dr. Jack Maypole. (Pollen.com’s Allergy Alert app is free on iTunes and Google Play). If your child is symptomatic on a particular day, consulting the pollen count on the app can help inform you about what triggers are present and decide whether outdoor activities should be rescheduled for another day. The American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology advises outdoor play when pollen counts are at their lowest — predawn or in the late afternoon or evening.
3. Make sure all fruit is cooked
Summer means farmers markets — and lots of delicious fresh fruit. But if your child suffers from hay fever, they might have oral allergy syndrome, characterized by an itchy mouth, scratchy throat or swelling of the lips, mouth or tongue caused by cross-reacting allergens found in certain raw fruits or vegetables. According to the ACAAI, the biggest culprits are peaches, cherries, apples, celery, carrots, almonds, bananas, melons, tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, pears and kiwi. The simple solution is to cook your fruit.
4. Avoid insect stings
According to the ACAAI, most insect stings in the United States comes from wasps, yellow jackets, hornets and honeybees. To protect your child from an allergic reaction to insect venom, avoidance is the first line of defense. Make sure your child doesn’t walk barefoot in the grass, where stinging insects forage, or drink from open soda cans where stinging insects may be lurking. If you have a picnic outdoors, keep food covered at all times, and encourage your child to wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts, socks and shoes during outdoor play.
5. Eliminate pollen from your home
The ACAAI recommends removing your child’s clothes and shoes as soon as they come indoors because pollen they’ve picked up outdoors can easily attach to them and quickly transfer to furniture and bed linen. Pollen also sticks to hair, so don’t hang about before getting them in the bath or shower for a good scrub. If you have pets, get into the habit of wiping them down with pet wipes to help get rid of pollen stuck to their fur.
6. Don’t forget about indoor air
Your child may play outdoors during the summer, but you need to pay just as much attention to indoor air quality to keep pollutants to a minimum. Invest in a certified, good-quality air purifier, such as an LG PuriCare purifier, which automatically detects airborne contaminants and reduces smoke, pollen and other air pollutants. It emits colors based on detected indoor pollution level nearby — red meaning polluted and green meaning clean, so consumers can instantly check air quality. Another product is the Trane CleanEffects Whole-Home Air Filtration System, which uses revolutionary technology to remove up to 99.98 percent of airborne particles from the air inside the home, reducing harmful bacteria and allergens, like pollen, dust, pet hair and tobacco smoke.
7. Take medicine before going outside
Most allergy medicines work best when taken before exposure, says Dr. Kalpana DePasquale, a board-certified ear, nose and throat surgeon. This allows the medicine to prevent the body from releasing histamine and other chemicals that cause symptoms. “Nasal sprays and antihistamines should be taken daily in a patient with known pollen, grass and ragweed allergies,” DePasquale explains. “This is how they work most effectively. But the peak effectiveness is about one to two hours after ingestion.”
Dr. Robert Korn of Northwell Health-GoHealth Urgent Care recommends a trial of an over-the-counter non-sedating antihistamine like Zyrtec or Allegra if your child is displaying allergic symptoms. “It takes two to three days to work, so don’t give up too soon!” Korn says. “You may want to add an OTC nasal steroid like Flonase if nasal discharge and itching are prominent. If eye itching and tearing are your main symptoms, try over-the-counter Zaditor or Alaway. This is ketotifen, which is much less expensive than a prescription, which will often not be covered by your insurance.”
8. Keep your garden in shape
Keeping your lawn and garden trimmed and pruned throughout spring will stop the shorter blades from holding as much pollen from the trees and flowers, advises Jay Ayers, indoor air-quality product manager at Trane. Rather than cut flowers from the garden (no matter how beautiful they are) to display indoors, buy cut flowers from a local florist, as these are likely to have been cultivated to be pollen free.
9. Dry clothes indoors
If you line-dry your clothes and bedding outdoors when the pollen count is high, it defeats the purpose of washing them. Use a clothes dryer instead, says Ayers. Pollen travels in the air, so wash clothing and bedding once a week to stop pollutants from settling in. Remember, the washing machine must reach 130 degrees F in order to kill pollutants, dust mites and their eggs, so always use a hot water cycle.
A version of this article was originally published in May 2017.