Springtime means colourful blossoms and budding plants everywhere you look on the farm in New Zealand. Unfortunately, many of those beautiful signs of spring can also cause seasonal allergies. But for some kids allergies don’t just cause itchy eyes and sneezing, they cause something not typically thought of as an allergic reaction: Eczema.
Why Does Your Skin Get Itchy in Spring?
In spring, trees and plants begin to bud creating invisible airborne allergens like mould and pollen. For some people when their skin is exposed to these invisible airborne allergens it leads to release of histamine, a neurotransmitter that dilates blood vessels and leads to inflammation, making the skin sensitive. If the skin is highly reactive, it can trigger allergy-related itchiness and even eczema. The most readily affected areas for this to occur on the face are on the cheek and the skin surrounding the eye.
Normally, the immune system would only react if a harmful substance, such as bacteria, attacks the body. For people with allergies, their immune systems are working too hard and react even when relatively harmless substances, such as pollen, are present. The severity of an allergic reaction can vary from mild discomfort to life-threatening situations. Common allergies include eczema, hives, hay fever, and asthma. You can also get allergic reactions from food, pet dander, dust mites, airborne pollen, and the venom of stinging insects, such as wasps and bees
The change of season tends to affect our skin regardless if we have allergies or not, but it seems those who are constantly plagued by pollen can have it worse. Here are a few of the most common skin conditions allergy sufferers have noticed:
More than just the typical dry skin we all experience in the winter, eczema can be far worse and far more painful. Caused by both seasonal allergies and food allergies, eczema appears on the skin in the form of red patches of dry skin, inflammation and itching. The most common parts of the body affected by this skin condition are the elbows, knees, face, neck, and hands, but eczema can form anywhere. When the dry skin comes into contact with pollens, bacteria and other allergy triggers the skin becomes inflamed (red and slightly swollen) and starts to itch. But the more the person scratches the worse the inflammation becomes, and infection can set in, often leading to an an itch-scratch cycle that can be hard to break.
Most of these skin irritations will go away on their own in a few weeks and aren’t considered to be very serious conditions. Occasionally they will seem like the skin irritation is fading or even will disappear, but then they will come back. This is said to be normal, and not anything to be concerned about.
If your child does have an eczema flare-up, it can usually be treated at home. The best treatment is a 10 to 15 minute bath using a use a natural, toxin-free, antibacterial Body Wash infused with Manuka Oil to help keep the skin clear of bacteria. This supports the thin layer on top of your skin- called the acid mantle- which is vital to your skin’s health, and it is the first line of defence against bacteria and the environment. Sitting in the tub also allows the skin to rehydrate, which relieves the gnawing dryness that makes eczema so uncomfortable. After the bath, it’s important to moisturise the skin using Body Lotion while their skin is still damp, as this helps to trap in some of the moisture and creates a protective shield that will keep the skin hydrated, and not dried out.
Hay fever is a specific kind of allergic reaction to pollen having direct contact with the skin. Many of the symptoms are similar to the side effects caused by breathing in allergens; however, sometimes a rash can also be found in these cases. Often mistaken for hives, these rashes usually appear first as red patches and eruptions on the skin that look similar to welts. The skin might be red and swollen as well, but the spots are clearly defined and might even grow over time. These are different from hives, which can also be caused by hay fever. You can spot the difference because hives will turn white when you press on them. Hay fever isn’t only caused by rolling around in the hay (as many believe) and more often than not is caused by gardening or touching flowers.
Hives are also caused by allergens coming in contact with the skin. They appear on the skin as red, itchy bumps that range in size from one centimetre to one foot in circumference. They tend to last from several hours to a full day and will form in clusters that are referred to as plaques. This skin condition can form on any surface of the skin including the back, cheek, tongue, and even the throat, occasionally causing a stinging or burning sensation. These are not to be mistaken for the hives caused by consuming something you’re allergic to, such as peanuts or dairy. Hives caused by this kind of allergic reaction will typically last for days or even weeks and can require immediate medical attention. Using a Body Wash and Body Lotion infused with Manuka oil which has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties will reduce the swelling, prevent infections, and also soothe the skin.
6 Handy Tips for Spring Itchy Skin
While you can’t eliminate pollen, or other causes of allergies if you or your kids are suffering from itchy eyes, sneezing, and stuffy, runny noses, here are a few handy tips for everyone to enjoy the season
1) It’s important to eat right and drink plenty of water, so their body has the necessary nutrients it needs to effectively manage allergies. Plus, some foods have high amounts of histamine in them that can trigger or increase the severity of the seasonal allergies.
2) Have children wear long sleeves and pants when outside. If your child has eczema, direct exposure to pollen and other particles in the air is likely to trigger a flare-up. By adding a protective layer of cotton between the skin and the triggers you can reduce inflammation
3) Bathe kids after outside play and remove shoes at the door. This removes pollen and other outdoor allergy triggers that may get stuck to their clothes and hair during play being brought into the house. A top tip is to shampoo hair daily to remove pollen from hair and skin in order to keep it off their bedding. Wash bedding in hot, soapy water once a week.
4) Plan your activities. Keeping kids indoors on a sunny, spring day is much easier said than done, but it helps to plan activities in the afternoon and early evening since plants tend to release pollen in the morning from 5am- 10am.
5) Cleaning regularly and using a HEPA filter. A well-cleaned house has far fewer allergy triggers lurking inside. Vacuuming rugs, furniture and drapes, and washing linens, pillows and stuffed toys in hot water will remove any dust, pollen and other hard-to-see allergy triggers inside the house. A high-efficiency particulate air filter will reduce the amount of airborne allergens in your indoor environment. Keep in mind a HEPA filter doesn’t do much for heavier allergens like dust mites. You can read more about how to remove them here. If you have a pet, make sure it’s cleaned often because pet’s dander (dried, flaked skin) can lead to allergy symptoms.
6) Minimise stress when possible. Studies show high amounts of stress can increase histamine and create more adverse allergy reactions. A change in your skin care routine may be necessary to calm the inflammation and reduce itchiness. You can download a fantastic booklet by Amy Down, from Mummy Mojo here
Sadly, due to climate change, experts are predicting a worse-than-average spring allergy season and expect the situation to escalate as time goes on. The reason being that concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have risen, which increases the release of allergen levels such as pollen and types of fungal growth, such as mould, and the spores they release. So, what can you do?
If you suffer from seasonal allergies, we recommend that you avoid products that contain fragrances and/or toxic preservatives such as parabens and/or propylene glycol. These are high on the list of allergens that can irritate your skin.
To properly manage spring allergies, you could see your doctor or an allergist who will help you identify what types of allergies you suffer from and create a plan of action moving forward.