Kids and allergies, by the season
This year-round guide will tell you what common allergens you can expect and when.
For the millions of SA children with seasonal allergies, a change of season means more than a change of scenery. Differences in temperature and rainfall affect the pollination periods of plants and the growth of mould spores, which are common allergy triggers. Knowing what allergens dominate each season can help you understand what may be causing your child’s allergic reaction and how to better prepare them for different times of the year.
“One thing that is common to seasonal allergies is that particular pollens increase at particular times of the year, usually coinciding with season” says Prof Claudia Gray allergist at the UCT Lung Institute and director of AFSA.
The following is a seasonal guide to some of the most common allergens and tips to help your child manage them.
Pollen counts are higher in the spring if the winter was especially mild or wet. Certain days, however, are worse than others for allergy sufferers. “Warmer days tend to cause more pollination,” says Prof Mike Levin, CEO of AFSA and head of Allergology at Red Cross Children’s Hospital. Windy days are problematic because, as Prof Levin points out, “pollen will get disseminated a lot more.”
“Pollen counts tend to be higher earlier in the morning, then settle during the day, and increase again around dusk” Gray says. “Therefore there will be certain times of the day when children will be less affected than other times of the day.”
Grass pollens are by far the most abundant of the pollens and a great problem for allergy sufferers in South Africa. Pollen levels peak in summer but – unlike elsewhere in the world – grass pollens are present almost all year especially in some parts of the country. “Different grass species flower at different times of the year, so that’s why you have these long grass seasons,” Levin says.
Pollen problems don’t end when the kids get home from playing outdoors because particles cling to hair, skin, and clothing. “When you’ve been outside, it’s important to get rid of the pollen that you might be taking with you,” says allergist Prof Claudia Gray, “Take off shoes that might be tracking pollen all over the carpet. Take a shower.” Prof Gray says you should protect your child from allergens just as you would from the sun – hats, sunglasses, long sleeves and pants can reduce their exposure to pollen.
For anyone with seasonal allergies, winter can be the best time of year. Once temperatures are very low “the plants hibernate and that’s it,” Levin says. “But that doesn’t mean allergies stop for the season. Reasons people continue to have symptoms during the winter include that the allergen that they are allergic to might be a perennial, year-round allergen, that the allergen might persist into the winter because of a long pollen season or even because the allergen is only present during winter,” Levin explains.
Winter won’t provide much relief for children who have non-seasonal or perennial allergies to things like dust mites, cockroaches, animal dander, and indoor moulds or mildews. In fact, these allergens “might cause more problems in the winter when people are indoors more and windows are closed,” Gray says. To reduce allergens in your home, the Allergy Foundation of South Africa suggests washing bedding every two weeks in water heated to at least 60 degrees, avoiding carpeting and upholstered furniture, and keeping pets out of certain rooms like your child’s bedroom.