The arrival of sunshine can be a glorious time for children, who can’t wait to play outside after months cooped up indoors. But, for some young sufferers of the common health conditions eczema and asthma, blue skies can bring the misery of flare-ups. Add to this the seasonal allergy of hay fever and it’s a recipe for unhappy children – and unhappy parents.
You may not realise it, but all these three complaints are closely linked. For a start, they are all inflammatory disorders of the tissues that protect the body from the world around it and are generally triggered by changes in that environment, or allergens such as pollen. They are also known as atopic diseases, meaning that they run in families and are closely linked to one another, with many sufferers exhibiting the symptoms of more than one.
With a little bit of knowledge and some careful planning, it’s easy to ensure these health issues don’t put a dampener on enjoying the good weather. Here’s our guide to understanding and tackling them…
Atopic eczema, also known as dermatitis, affects one in five children in the UK and causes the skin to to break out in red, dry, scaly and itchy patches. Scientists are still trying to learn more about the condition, but it’s thought that sufferers have a problem with their filaggrin, a protein that plays a key role in forming the skin.
The condition varies from person to person, with different pollutants and allergens being triggers. Summer often exacerbates symptoms as sweat, sun cream, sand, insect repellent and chlorine from pools all irritate sensitive skin, and pollen can be a factor, too. Luckily, 74% of childhood sufferers grow out of the condition by the time they’re 16.
What you can do
With so many potential triggers around, it’s important to protect your child from flare-ups by keeping her skin moisturised at all times, especially if she is going to be spending a lot of time on the beach or in a swimming pool If a particular allergen is the cause of her eczema, try to eliminate her contact with it as much as you possibly can.
Antihistamines may be prescribed if your child’s skin is very itchy and antibiotics given if it is infected. topical creams, such as corticosteroids can be prescribed and, in some cases, oral corticosteroids, for severe symptoms. Emollients – which are oilier than regular creams – will help keep the skin supple and less itchy.
Wearing loose fitting cotton clothing and keeping the skin moisturised and cool will also help. Pick a sun cream that uses particles of metal oxide (such as titanium dioxide) that sit on the skin and has an emollient formulation, to lock in moisture. Also try a UV sun suit to protect the skin.
Around 1.1 million children in the UK suffer with asthma, and it commonly continues throughout adulthood. It occurs when your child’s airways become inflamed. Allergens like dust, fumes and pollen trigger airways to produce mucus, making it harder to breathe. Symptoms include coughing and wheezing as well as a tight chest. These may develop into a full-blown asthma attack, needing medical attention.
Changes in air pressure due to thunderstorms, air pollution and the increase in airborn pollen in the summer can all exacerbate symptoms. Exercise can also trigger attacks.
What you can do
Some evidence suggests that practising yoga or other forms of breathing techniques can be beneficial. Salt therapies (such as visiting salt baths) are also thought to reduce inflammation of the airways and neutralise allergens before they’re breathed in. Asthma UK advises that complimentary therapies should only be used in conjunction with prescribed medication. With such strong links between asthma and hay fever, it is advisable that asthma sufferers should also be protected from exposure to pollens.
There is no actual cure for asthma, but various inhalers and medicines on prescription can help manage the condition, calming symptoms in your child before before a full attack occurs.
In a recent US study, it was discovered there is a link between asthma and a peanut sensitivity, with the symptoms being very similar: “Many of the respiratory symptoms of peanut allergy can mirror those of an asthma attack, and vice versa. Examples of those symptoms include shortness of breath, wheezing and coughing,” says study lead author Robert Cohn, MD, MBA.
This was a relatively small study, with further research being carried out but if you have any concerns, it’s worth getting your child tested for peace of mind.
Hay fever, also known as seasonal allergic rhinitis, is an increasingly common allergic reaction to pollen, affecting one in five people at some point in their lives. It occurs when the immune system incorrectly recognises pollen as a threat, so goes into overdrive and floods the body with histamines to fight the ‘intruder’. It’s these histamines that cause the symptoms your child may exhibit, such as sneezing, a runny nose or itchy eyes. Summer is the peak of the hay fever season, with grass pollens released into the air from May until mid-August, and wild flower pollens from June until mid-September.
What you can do
There are a number of natural remedies to try out.
- A daily dose of honey made from local bees is often cited as a way of getting the body used to the pollen produced in the are where you live. This should be started as early in the year as possible, although the effectiveness of this treatment has yet to be proven and honey should not be given to children under one.
- Try giving your child apples and red onions, which contain the natural antihistamine quercetin. Eating pineapple helps the body to absorb quercetin more easily.
- Brightly coloured fruit and veg, like oranges, watermelon, grapefruit, red pepper and carrots, are stuffed full of vitamin C and bioflavonoids, which help the body to tackle hay fever symptoms.
Make sure your child is dressed to lessen her exposure to pollen. Buy a pair of wrap-around sunglasses and a machine-washable hat. Simply pop the hat in the wash once she returns indoors. Stripping off outdoor clothes and a shower can also help. Don’t be tempted to open windows to keep bedrooms cool, as the pollen count is highest in the evening and at dawn. Instead, invest in a fan or a portable air conditioning unit. And replace wind-pollinating and heavily scented plants in your garden.
Your GP can prescribe antihistamine tablets, medicine and nasal sprays to ease your child’s symptoms, along with drops to soothe itchy, red eyes. They are also available over the counter, but it is best to seek medical advice first before giving them to your child and be sure to look for non-drowsy medications.
See 5 of the best summer allergy-busting products here