Constantly wiping your baby's nose for weeks on end isn't one of the perks of motherhood. A runny nose is only one possible symptom of a nasal allergy. Others include red and itchy eyes, nose rubbing, and clear (rather than yellow or green) mucus. Kids aren't typically bothered by outdoor triggers like grass and ragweed until after age 3, but they can be bothered by household allergens such as mold, dust mites, pet dander, and cockroaches. Nasal allergies affect as many as 40 percent of children, and symptoms can start as early as 6 months. Pay close attention to when your child's sneezing or itching peaks: This can clue you in to what's responsible. For example, dust mites live in bedding and furniture, so if your child is allergic to dust mites, she'll probably wake up with itchy eyes and a runny nose after inhaling them overnight. Or if your baby can't tolerate pet dander, you might notice that her symptoms erupt when you're visiting Grandma and her cats.
How To Prevent It: Get cleaning! Mold flourishes in damp environments, so kill it by wiping under the fridge, scrubbing bathrooms, cleaning or changing shower curtains, and washing and disinfecting garbage cans. Wipe off mini blinds, which trap dust, or replace them with washable drapes. Laundering sheets and stuffed animals in hot water weekly can reduce the level of dust mites and pet dander. Vacuum carpets at least once a week (and upholstery a couple of times every month), especially if you have a dog or cat. Ideally, you should use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter, which actually removes allergens rather than spewing them around the room. For both carpet and upholstery, avoid wet cleaners, as they can leave rugs and furniture damp, creating an environment for mold. Cockroaches are a less common problem, especially in nonurban areas, but play it safe by removing garbage from the kitchen, keeping food in sealed containers, and regularly cleaning counters and floors. Dust mites and cockroaches thrive in humid areas, so fix water leaks and use a dehumidifier as well.
How to Treat It: If your child has a pet allergy, keep Rex and Mr. Whiskers out of your child's room, and also establish a pet-free zone in the part of your house where your baby spends most of his time, Dr. Miranowski says. In addition to vacuuming regularly, you can bathe your pet every week and install a HEPA filter in an air purifier to remove dander. If these measures don't work -- and if your child continues to have a reaction to dander or dust mites despite your best housekeeping efforts -- an allergist will likely prescribe a medication. Claritin and Zyrtec are both available as a syrup, and they're approved for children older than 2 years. Of course, if your kid has a severe allergy, you can find a new pet-friendly home for Rex, but these other tactics often work well.
Now that you know how to keep your baby's sniffles at bay (at least most of the time), sit back and relax a little. Until, of course, you have to worry about seasonal allergies in a few years!
Originally published in the May 2010 issue of American Baby magazine.
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