6 surprising back-to-school allergens — and how to protect your child

·3-min read

Most parents are understandably focused on protecting their children from COVID-19 as they go back to school. But there's another invisible health issue that parents should have on their radars as well: allergies.

"Millions of kids in this country suffer from allergies, whether it's food, medications, dander, dust mites, or latex," Dr. Alok Patel, clinical instructor of pediatrics at Stanford University, tells Yahoo Life. In fact, allergic conditions are one of the most common health issues affecting children in the U.S., according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

"When it comes to seasonal allergies, we don't really have a great way to prevent kids from developing them," Patel says. "It just comes down to preparation and knowing what to be on the lookout for."

Patel says that common allergy symptoms in kids include:

  • runny nose

  • sneezing

  • dry cough

  • itchy red eyes

Worth noting: Some of those symptoms can overlap with those of COVID-19. However, Patel points out that symptoms such as fever, body aches, chills and shaking are likely not related to allergies. (If your child develops those symptoms, call their pediatrician about getting them tested for COVID-19 right away.)

Unfortunately, there are several seasonal allergens that tend to spike during the fall season, leading to a slew of uncomfortable allergy symptoms. And you've probably never heard of many of them, Patel says. They include: burning bush, cocklebur, lamb's quarters, pigweed, and sagebrush.

But it's not just outdoor allergens that can cause symptoms in children — indoor allergens that kids are exposed to in the classroom can also be problematic. Patel says these are some of the most common ones that can spark allergy symptoms in kids:

  • dust mites

  • mold

  • animal dander

  • chalk dust

  • cigarette smoke (such as on a teacher or staff member's clothes)

  • cologne or perfume

If your child is experiencing allergy symptoms at school or coming home with them, Patel says it's important to try to figure out the trigger — even though it's not always an easy task. "It's a lot easier if your kid has a history of allergies or a family history of allergies," he says. 

One option, Patel says, is to call your child's school and ask what they may have been exposed to. You can also try checking your local pollen counts online to see if your child's symptoms seem to coincide with high pollen days. "But, at the end of the day, your best bet is to chat with a healthcare professional," Patel says. Your child may need allergy testing to try to identify a specific allergy or trigger, so that you and your child's healthcare team can try to figure out how to minimize exposure in the future. 

Once you've been able to identify a trigger or triggers, Patel recommend taking the following steps:

  • Raise awareness. Make sure your child knows their allergy triggers and how to avoid them.

  • Communicate with your child's school. Tell the school about your child's allergies and provide necessary supplies.

  • Create an action plan. Keep all medications updated and talk through management of your child's allergy symptoms with teachers and the school nurse.

When it comes to giving your child medication to treat their seasonal allergies, Patel says it's best to talk to their doctor first before trying any over-the-counter options. "Not all medications are equal and kids are not just little adults — their bodies act differently towards medications," Patel says.

Video produced by Kat Vasquez

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