Nasal Allergies and Kids: Helping Them Cope at School

Does your child have nasal allergies? Make sure the treatment is not making him or her lose focus at school.

By Amanda Genge, Staff Writer

Up to 1 in 5 school-aged children has nasal allergies, also known as allergic rhinitis. Parents often want to give their kids medicine to relieve allergy symptoms. But medicines, even over-the-counter (OTC) ones that control sniffling and sneezing, can have side effects that can make your child tired and unable to focus well. Your child also may have to struggle to stay energized for other activities such as sports. On the other hand, leaving nasal allergies untreated can also interfere with school performance. So what is a concerned parent to do?

OTC treatments: benefits and drawbacks
One of the first treatments used for allergies is OTC antihistamines. Some of them, though, can make kids feel tired, irritable or distracted. This can affect your child's ability to do well in school.

You can avoid some side effects by choosing an antihistamine that's less likely to cause sleepiness. Loratadine (Claritin, Alavert) is one option. Another is cetirizine (Zyrtec). These medicines can cause drowsiness in some people. But the effect is usually less than that from some older drugs such as diphenhydramine (such as Benadryl). Keep in mind that when you use over-the-counter medicines, it's important to follow the instructions on the package. These medications aren't safe for all children, so check with your doctor first. And remember, more is never better or safe when using medicine.

A word about OTC nasal sprays
Antihistamines help stop runny nose, itching, and sneezing. But they often have little effect on stuffiness. OTC nasal decongestant sprays, however, require caution. They are not recommended for certain age groups and should not be used for chronic symptoms.

Saline sprays lubricate the nasal passages and are safer. They may not provide as much relief as a decongestant, though. Another option is to use an anti-inflammatory nasal spray, such as cromolyn sodium (NasalCrom).

Prescription medications
What if over-the-counter treatments don't help your child's symptoms? Then your doctor may prescribe another medicine such as a nasal spray that contains a steroid medication. Some parents may worry about inhibited growth from using nasal steroid medication. This is usually not a problem as long as the medicine is taken in the recommended dose.

Dealing with seasonal allergies
Here are some ways to cut down on sneezing and sniffles when allergy season strikes: