The Sneezing Season

Step 2: Go to the Drugstore

Despite your best efforts to reduce her exposure to pollen, your allergic child will inevitably experience some sneezing and sniffling during the spring months. Your doctor may not need to prescribe medication if these over-the-counter measures provide enough comfort.

Try antihistamines. Antihistamines remain the most popular and least expensive line of defense against allergies. They don't prevent an allergic reaction but counter the effects of histamine. (Most allergy drugs are formulated in doses for children as young as 3, which is generally the earliest that allergies begin in kids.) Although antihistamines can provide relief from sneezing, itching, runny nose, nasal congestion, and eye irritation, however, they're often sedating, a side effect you may not want for your child, especially if he's in school. Conversely, they can cause hyperactivity in some kids.

Consider cromolyn. Cromolyn sodium, a nasal spray that until recently was prescription only but can now be bought over the counter in a children's formula, inhibits the release of histamine from special cells called mast cells. Each dose blocks a reaction for about four hours. Knowing in advance when allergies will strike can help: For cromolyn to be fully effective, doctors often advise giving it to your child regularly for one to two weeks before allergy season. "It can also be helpful taken just before your child is exposed to an allergen on an as-needed basis," Dr. Smith says.

Avoid decongestant sprays. Giving your child a nasal spray to relieve stuffiness is acceptable for short-term relief as long as you don't use it for more than a day or two. "If you use them longer than that, they can cause a rebound effect, in which the congestion becomes even worse," Dr. Smith says. Because seasonal allergies tend to last weeks or months, not days, Dr. Smith is cautious about recommending them at all. Oral decongestants don't pose a rebound problem, but they also don't address sneezing and itching and can make some children hyperactive.

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