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Managing Allergies in Children and Adults

Dr. Luis Rodriguez
Dr. Luis Rodriguez

People can have indoor allergies or outdoor allergies. Some allergies vary with the seasons while others, such as food allergies, never go away. An unusually warm winter gave us an early and prolonged allergy season this year. Dr. Luis Rodriguez, a pediatrician and pulmonologist as well as Director of the Department of Pediatrics at Woodhull Medical and Mental Health Center in Brooklyn, discusses allergies and how to manage them in children and adults.

Why do we get allergies? 

To some extent, the tendency to develop allergies is inherited. If one parent has allergies, the child has a 40 percent chance of developing them. If both parents have allergies, odds that the child will have allergies rise to 75 percent. Sometimes people are born with a predisposition to a certain substance, but they won’t know it until they are exposed to that allergen.

How do allergies vary with the seasons?

Spring flower blossoms, grasses, and certain trees can all be powerful allergens. In the late summer and fall, ragweed is the main environmental allergen. There are also types of grass that can trigger allergies in autumn.

How are allergies different in children and adults?

Children are more likely to develop asthma due to allergies than adults. But in terms of how people feel, the symptoms are the same in children and adults – itchy eyes, runny nose, congestion, coughing and sneezing. Sometimes an allergy is confused with a cold or the flu.

Is it true that you can “grow out of” an allergy? 

If children have allergies, they will continue to have allergies later in life. If a child is allergic to peanuts, for example, they will probably always have to avoid them.

What are some quick tips to help reduce allergy symptoms? 

The best tip is avoidance. If you know you or your child is allergic to pollen, you have to try to keep away from it. That doesn’t mean you have to keep your son or daughter indoors all the time. Have the child wear a hat, as well as sunglasses, since the eyes are a major port of entry. Keep your windows closed to keep pollen and other irritants from coming into the house. If you have an air conditioner, make sure the filter is clean.

If your child has indoor allergies, such as an allergy to dust, vacuum as often as you can. Wash your sheets with hot water once a week to get rid of the dust mites. You should also purchase pillow and mattress covers that that have special fabrics to keep the dust from settling in the bed area. My son has mild asthma, and we have special pillow covers for him.

What about medication? 

Medication is another option. But you must see the doctor first, even before you use medicine you can buy in the drugstore. A few years ago, the FDA restricted the use of cold and allergy medications for children under 2 years because they offered more side effects than benefits. The key rule: Always ask your doctor about medication.

What about allergy shots? 

Some people can benefit from allergy shots, where the allergist carefully introduces small amounts of what the person is allergic to, increasing that amount over time. That way your body can build up a defense. It might get to the point where you don’t need shots any more.

Looking forward, do you see great progress in treating allergies? 

I think the greatest progress is in the research happening with food allergies, more than in environmental allergies. Researchers are tackling how to recognize food allergies and how to keep kids safe. The answer is mainly avoidance. We have to get the schools onboard with that, but I see positive change. For example, they have stopped giving out peanuts on airplanes, which is very positive.


August 2012

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