Tips to Help Children Breathe Easier
For one in seven U.S. children, spring brings the start of seasonal allergies that can last through the fall. Seasonal allergies such as hay fever and allergic rhinitis occur when an airborne allergen comes into contact with nasal membranes, triggering the release of inflammatory histamines. The result can be sneezing, congestion, itchy eyes, coughing and runny nose. While not life-threatening, these symptoms tend to interrupt a youngster’s sleep, weaken concentration and keep him or her from participating fully in play and school.
Over-the-counter allergy medications can bring relief, but like other conventional drugs, they are not without drawbacks. “I don’t think decongestants and antihistamines are appropriate for kids, period,” states Randall Neustaedter, a doctor of Oriental medicine and a homeopathic pediatrician. “They tend to make kids tired, and they don’t really address the problem. They’re like putting a Band-Aid on the symptoms. It’s more important to build up immune system function, which these medications do not do.”
Long-term use of antihistamines also has been linked to depression, anxiety and impaired thinking. A better approach is to gently and naturally reduce a child’s contact with allergic substances while boosting the immune system. Here’s how.
Steps for Prevention
1. Clean inside air.
Install a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter, which removes pollen and dust from indoor air, and keep it running in the child’s bedroom 24 hours a day. The portable models work fine in smaller rooms and cost less than $100. On windy days and while the child is sleeping, keep the windows shut. If possible; remove old carpeting and cover air vents with filters; vacuum frequently when children are not in the room; avoid using ceiling fans; and wash all bedding and stuffed animals once a week.
2. Keep the nose clean.
It might take some getting used to, but rinsing the sinuses with a warm saline solution (salt water) is an excellent, age-old, natural remedy that helps reduce contact with pollen and lessens allergy symptoms. Sinus rinse kits are available in stores and online for about $15. A cleansing device of Indian origin called the neti pot is another affordable alternative.
3. Provide a low-inflammation diet.
Many children who have food sensitivities don’t know it. Foods such as dairy and wheat can promote the formation of mucus and inflammation that create an imbalance in immune system function, advises Neustaedter. Consider limiting these foods before and during allergy season.
He also suggests using nutritional supplements to build up the small-intestine lining, which helps balance immune system function. For example, glutamine is an amino acid linked to improved intestinal-lining maintenance. Also add more antioxidant-rich and anti-inflammatory foods such as nuts, fish, grapes, oranges, apples and tomatoes to family meals. Because they fight free-radical cell damage (which interferes with the immune system), antioxidants can help boost immunity.
4. Try natural medicines.
When allergy symptoms flare up, Neustaedter recommends trying Chinese herbal formulas with Xanthium, which relieves symptoms by acting like an antihistamine. Recent studies also attest to the helpfulness of rosemary, which is deemed safe, even for children.
The idea is to deliver “the most help with the least intervention,” Neustaedter says. Always consult an experienced herbalist or holistic doctor before giving any herbs to children; some can be toxic if taken improperly.
5. Consider allergy-soothing teas.
Warm liquids soothe the throat and nasal passages, and there are several teas created specifically for allergy sufferers. Natural tea sweeteners include honey and stevia.
While a genetic predisposition is often a factor, recent studies also suggest that oversensitivity to allergens might be linked to antibiotic overuse, which might explain why allergies have been on the rise for the past 40 years. “Antibiotics kill off not only disease-causing bacteria, but also health-promoting bacteria,” explains Gary B. Huffnagle, Ph.D., of the University of Michigan.
In his new book, The Holistic Baby Guide, Neustaedter also cites research that links allergies to vaccines. “Some researchers think that vaccination of children tends to create an imbalance in the immune responses, making children more prone to allergic responses,” he notes.
The most common hay fever triggers are plant pollens. Flower pollen is usually carried by bees, so it isn’t windblown and rarely gets into people’s noses. More than 1,000 varieties of grass grow in North America, but only Kentucky bluegrass and a few others produce allergic pollen. The most prolific culprits are weeds such as ragweed, sagebrush and thistle. Trees with the highest pollen counts include oak, ash, elm, hickory, pecan, box elder and mountain cedar.