Come mid-March, Kelly Beins knows it's time to start her 6-year-old daughter, Mae, on her allergy medicine. "It's like clockwork," says the Frederick, Maryland, mother of two. "Mae's runny nose, hacking cough, and all-over itchiness start in the beginning of spring and move into high gear from April through June. But I know now that if I begin her prescription corticosteroid spray a few weeks earlier, and take some preventive measures like keeping our windows closed, we can avoid the symptoms, or at least lessen them."
While Beins can breathe a sigh of relief that she finally has a handle on her daughter's health, it took years of juggling various over-the-counter and prescription medications, as well as visiting many doctors and modifying Mae's diet -- not to mention many sleepless nights -- before she felt that way.
Right about now, there are plenty of parents like Beins, wondering whether there's anything they can do about their child's chronically drippy nose, itchy, watery eyes, and up-all-night cough. Many assume that those symptoms are due to a cold. But at this time of year, the culprit may well be an allergy -- an overreaction of the body's immune system to substances known as allergens that are normally harmless. With a kaleidoscope of new products lining drugstore shelves (many of them having been downgraded in recent years from prescription to over-the-counter), it's tempting to assume that you can treat these misery-making symptoms on your own.
"Trying an over-the-counter medication for a few days is fine -- as long as you make sure you're giving your child the right one," says Parents advisor Ari Brown, M.D., a pediatrician in Austin, Texas, and author of Baby 411. In fact, there's a lot you can do to take charge of your kid's allergies. However, it's equally important to know when to see your pediatrician -- or an allergist -- to manage the symptoms. The first step, though, is figuring out what's triggering them in the first place.