My boys and I suffer from tree pollen allergies. More than birds chirping or flowers blooming, I have come to associate boogery sleeves and sneezing with the onset of spring. But these are the typical symptoms, which are easily recognizable as allergy-induced.
What I’d like to address in this post are some lesser known symptoms of seasonal allergies, which may also be rearing their ugly heads this spring. Red eyes and runny noses aside, there are plenty of other ways that allergies can make us miserable. Especially in children, who already have a hard time translating physical symptoms into words, some of these symptoms are easily overlooked.
So, dear reader, I present to you a few somewhat obscure allergy symptoms to be on the lookout for this spring:
1. Headaches. Headaches in combination with nasal symptoms are a typical seasonal allergy complaint. However, many people do not realize that isolated headaches (without associated sneezing and runny nose) can also be brought on by high airborne allergen levels. I personally do not experience a great deal of sneezing or eye irritation, but one of my first clues that allergy season is upon us is a frontal (forehead) headache.
2. Itchy ears. I see this all the time. People think they have swimmer’s ear or an ear infection, but when I look in the ear, there is no sign of infection. Sometimes there is inflammation of the ear canal, similar to eczema. Many of these people actually experience this ear itching seasonally, and their symptoms often improve with antihistamines or prescription ear drops. If your kid is walking around town with his finger stuck in his ear, a visit to the doctor may be in order.
3. Sore throat in the morning, that improves throughout the day. Think of it this way: if you have a stuffy nose, you are forced to sleep with your mouth open. When you sleep with your mouth open, the air you breathe can cause evaporation of moisture from the mucosal tissues in your mouth and throat. This causes you to feel parched during the night, and to wake up with a sore throat. More often than not, you will hack up an ugly yellowish-brown loogie in the morning, and your sore throat will improve after breakfast. You probably don’t have strep throat or a sinus infection. It’s just that the stagnant mucous hanging around in your throat all night got icky.
4. Skin rash. Most people assume that allergic skin rashes are due to food allergies or contact with a chemical/metal allergen. However, it is common for eczema to flare up during airborne allergy season.
5. Itchy mouth, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Many foods (especially produce and grains) cross-react with pollens, like apples and birch pollen, wheat and grass pollen, watermelon and ragweed pollen. Although most people with environmental allergies do not need to limit their diets due to this cross-reactivity, certain patients (especially those with irritable bowel syndrome) find that their GI systems are more sensitive to these cross-reactive foods during the respective allergy season. Mouth get all itchy after eating a peach? It may be a tree pollen allergy to blame, rather than a fruit allergy!
6. Behavioral issues. Poorly controlled allergies result in poor-quality sleep. As adults, not getting a good night’s rest makes us grumpy (mean) and tired (lazy) during the day. However, I have found that children with poor sleep are not so easy to identify. Rather than falling asleep at their school desks (which can also happen), I see issues with normally happy, cooperative children becoming moody, hyperactive and difficult to redirect. Solving the sleep issues can help with daytime behavior. Frequently, parents bring in their children fearing that a food allergy is leading to behavior issues. However, addressing environmental triggers that impede restful sleep often ameliorates the issue.
Keep these symptoms in mind as you enjoy the warm temperatures, and seasonal allergies won’t catch you off guard.
Sakina Shikari Bajowala is an allergy and immunology physician who blogs at Achoo!- Adventures of an Allergist Mommy.