Seasonal Allergies

Also known as “Hay Fever” or “Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis”

Your child may be suffering from Seasonal Allergies if he/she has some of the following symptoms:

  • Sneezing
  • Congestion
  • Runny nose
  • Cough
  • Itchy nose/throat

These symptoms typically occur during a certain time of year, such as when outdoor molds release their spores or trees, grasses, and weeds release tiny pollen particles into the air to fertilize other plants.

In people with allergies, the immune system treats these particles (known as allergens) as invaders and releases chemicals (such as histamine) into the bloodstream to fight these invaders.  These chemicals are what cause the allergy symptoms.

Those children who have allergies can be allergic to one or more types of pollen or mold.  The symptoms may occur at different times of the year depending on what he or she is allergic to.

For example, in Northern Virginia:

  • Tree pollination begins in February and lasts through May.
  • Grass pollination occurs from May to June.
  • Weeds pollinate from August to October.
  • Mold spores tend to peak mid-summer to fall.

Thus, your child may have increased symptoms during those times of year.

Who develops allergy symptoms?

Allergy symptoms often begin during childhood, typically before 10 years of age.  They usually begin after 1-2 seasons of exposure to these allergens, which means a child may have allergy symptoms as early as age one or two.

Signs and Symptoms:

Parents often ask, “How is this different from a cold?”

  • If the symptoms occur during the same time each year, seasonal allergies may be the culprit.
  • Allergy symptoms include, sneezing, nasal congestion, itchy nose/throat, clear runny nose and coughing.
  • Allergy symptoms can come on suddenly, but are not typically accompanied by a fever.
  • Allergy symptoms may be accompanied by itchy, watery, and/or red eyes.  This is known as allergic conjunctivitis.
  • Sometimes allergy symptoms can be accompanied by wheezing and shortness of breath and may progress to asthma exacerbations in certain children.

How to know if your child has Seasonal Allergies:

  • Diagnosis can be based on the history, for example, the repetitive pattern of symptoms.
  • You may need to talk to your doctor to help determine if this is an acute viral illness or allergies.
  • You may be referred to a Pediatric Allergist for allergy testing via skin prick.


There is no cure for seasonal allergies, but symptoms can be controlled.  See graphic below for more information.

  • You can reduce/eliminated exposure to allergens.  For example, during allergy season:
    • Keep windows closed (even in the car).
    • Use air-conditioning.
    • Stay indoors when pollen counts are high.
  • You can have your child change clothes and wash hands after playing outside.
  • Have her or him bathe in the evening to remove pollens from skin and hair before sleep.
  • Medications can be used to control symptoms:
    • Antihistamines such as cetirizine (Zyrtec) or loratidine (Claritin)
    • Nasal Steroid Sprays such as Flonase (fluticasone) or Nasonex (mometasone)
    • Decongestants (in children over 4 years of age)
  • Sometimes Allergy Shots (immunotherapy) can be used as well.  These desensitize children to allergens and are prescribed by a pediatric allergist.