Dear Dr. Debbie:
It seems that this year’s pollen is affecting not only me, but my three sons as well. Puffy eyes, runny noses and short tempers all around. This makes me wonder if maybe some of their misbehavior at other times may be due to allergies I haven’t yet pinpointed. Is there a relationship here?
Mom With Tissues
Yes. An allergic reaction can involve enough irritation to one’s throat, eyes, sinuses, etc. that a headache results. Acting with civility becomes difficult. Often the nearest human becomes the target for displacing the discomfort. More than one family member with the same airborne allergy can make for a rough season. One mom turned the noun “sibling” into a verb when this occurred in her family, as in “Stop sibling your brother!”
Dr. Doris Rapp has focused her career on helping parents to see the connection between allergies and cranky, uncooperative children. A few decades back, she recognized the behavioral changes when a child is exposed to an airborne allergen, such as pollen, or an ingested allergen, as from food. She saw drastic improvements in behavior, including the ability to focus on schoolwork, when allergens were removed from a child’s environment.
The obvious recommendation is to minimize or eliminate exposure. If you already know what your family’s allergens are, you can try to avoid them. If you have identified seasonal allergies in one or more family member, stay indoors with windows shut when the pollen count is high, when grass is being cut, and or when leaves are decaying in the fall. Indoor allergens, such as dust, dust mites, and pet dander, are easily avoided with more time spent outdoors. You can also ramp up the vacuuming and get rid of dust collecting rugs and curtains. Hairy pets are not allowed in the child’s room.
Food allergies take some detective work — prepared foods can have so many ingredients. Start with a daily food diary, along with a simple reporting of Great / Fair / Challenging behavior for several blocks of time each day. You’ll be paying attention to what goes in and how the child’s behavior is up to 24 hours afterwards.
Soon you will have your suspects: corn, dairy, eggs, soy, wheat, tree nuts, peanuts, fish and shellfish top the list. Sugar — and its many aliases — is not truly an allergen, but it can be the cause of a rapid rise in blood sugar followed by a precipitous drop. You may notice that it takes roughly 20 minutes to reach the frenzied crashing-into-everything stage and another 10 minutes until the whiney, helpless, totally uncooperative stage follows. It’s worth the effort a careful, methodic observation takes to relieve everyone of the disagreeable behavior that can occur when a child’s head and or belly have been irritated by a substance that his body can’t handle.
Hand washing and frequent face washing make sense for getting allergens off of the body. A dip in the pool should bring at least temporary relief. Drinking more water will help to thin the excess mucous and ease congestion. A small dosage of mustard, chili pepper and horseradish have been known to help clear out sinuses, too.
An allergy specialist can help further with diagnosing and treating persistent allergy discomfort. And better behavior will be the happy result.
Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.
What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com