Spring has finally arrived and kids are outside enjoying the warmer weather. But of course, along with blossoming trees, flowers and sprouting grasses comes springtime allergies. Many adults and children suffer from runny noses, congestion and itchy eyes this time of year thanks to increased pollen, spores and mold circulating in the air.
But when children also have a disability or chronic medical condition, such as cerebral palsy or neuromuscular disorders, dealing with seasonal allergies can become a more challenging situation.
Gillette patient, Everett Geurts, enjoys spending time outdoors.
Seven-year-old Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare patient, Everett Geurts, and his family experience this first-hand. Everett has a rare genetic condition called Beta-propeller Protein-Associated Neurodegeneration (BPAN) mutation, and experiences severe seizures. He and his family rely on the complex care team at Gillette to help coordinate his care and manage his allergies.
“Everett also has moderate seasonal allergies,” says his mom, Samantha Geurts. “We see how his seasonal allergies really amplify his other medical issues.”
To help parents and caregivers address this topic, we sat down with complex care pediatrician Madeleine Gagnon, MD, to address many of the questions they might have.
How do seasonal allergies affect kids who have disabilities or complex conditions?
First, just because a child has a disability or complex medical condition, doesn’t make them more likely to have seasonal allergies. However, if your child has a disability or complex condition and they’re also dealing with seasonal allergies, it can sometimes be more challenging. Otherwise, you’d likely see the same general symptoms of seasonal allergies, such as sneezing, nasal congestion, runny nose, itchy or watery eyes, wheezing or coughing in a child who has a complex condition as you would with any child.
Complications can arise when those seasonal allergens increase mucous production, the cause of runny noses and scratchy throats. That increased mucous production is the body's reaction to allergens. Many kids who have complex conditions already have a hard time moving and clearing out secretions. Those secretions can trigger reactive airways, so generally speaking, seasonal allergies can trigger other respiratory conditions, like asthma.
This means any breathing problems a child might already have can worsen. In some cases, seasonal allergies can cause other effects and intensify problems with sleep or even lead to infection.
What are some of the best ways to prevent or lessen my child’s seasonal allergy symptoms?
One of the best ways to reduce symptoms is to monitor the weather and watch out for high pollen, mold and allergen levels in the air. You may want to be more cautious when deciding to take children who have complex conditions and allergies outdoors for prolonged periods of time. On higher pollen count days, for example, you might want to limit your child’s exposure and stay indoors, use air conditioning and close car windows, etc.
“Depending how long he’s outside and depending on how high the pollen count is that day, it can really intensify all of Everett’s symptoms,” says Samantha. “So we try to limit his exposure on those days.”
What are the best medications for treating seasonal allergies in kids who have complex conditions?
First, talk to your primary care provider, visit an urgent care clinic, or schedule an appointment at Gillette’s Quick Care Clinic. Be sure to talk to the provider about your child’s symptoms. In higher-risk populations, such as kids who have complex conditions, it could be something more serious like pneumonia from an RSV virus, so it’s important to rule that out.
There are different medications used to treat seasonal allergies in kids who have complex medical conditions. Because many kids who have disabilities or complex conditions have long medication lists, it’s important to check for drug-to-drug interactions. Parents and caregivers should not give allergy medications to a child who has a complex condition without physician approval first.
There are a lot of different types of allergy medications out there, so be sure to discuss a medication plan for your child. Working with your child’s provider, reviewing your child’s medication list and talking to a pharmacy are the best steps to ensuring a mindful decision is made about which allergy medication plan works best for your child. If severe allergies begin to affect your child’s breathing, it might be time to see an allergy specialist, do more formal testing and look into more aggressive treatments. This is where Gillette’s Quick Care clinic can be helpful for families in determining the best approach depending on the severity of your child’s allergy symptoms and medications.
Everett’s mom agrees.
“We love Complex care at Gillette because it helps us ensure that everything is addressed in terms of Everett’s care. It helps our general comprehension and understanding of all aspects of his care. With the help of Gillette providers, it really keeps us up-to-date and on top of everything we need to think of, from managing daily medications to checking for possible drug interactions with his Zyrtec (cetirizine) allergy medication.”
If your child is a Gillette patient and experiencing symptoms of seasonal allergies, visit our new Quick Care Clinic in St. Paul. We’ll provide care for Gillette patients that are experiencing minor illnesses, such as seasonal allergies, on a same-day or next-day appointment basis.
Call to schedule your child's Quick Care appointment today.