UNC Health Talk

Allergic to Presents? Keep Sniffles at Bay with These Tips

Did Santa bring your kids a pile of presents? Are any of them soft and fuzzy? If your little ones have allergies, certain gifts can be adorable and allergenic, causing runny noses and watery eyes. Think fuzzy bathrobes and blankets, stuffed animals and real kittens and puppies.

Dust mites, which love plush fabrics, and pet dander are common triggers for allergy symptoms. But don’t worry, you won’t necessarily have to ship those gifts back to the North Pole — or Grandma.

UNC Health pediatric pulmonologist CeilaLoughlin, MD, director of the UNC Children’s Allergy & Asthma Center, has some suggestions to reduce the risks of allergies.

Reducing Allergies Triggered by Plush Toys

Let’s start with stuffed animals. Although some hypoallergenic bears, bunnies and other “loveys” are available, most are filled with stuffing that dust mites love. Dr. Loughlin suggests washing the lovey each week when you wash your child’s bedding. If Teddy is likely to come apart in the washer, you could try letting the toy “vacation” in the freezer overnight in a plastic bag. Or the toy could take an exciting “roller coaster ride” in the dryer on high heat. The dust mites don’t care for either of those adventures.

Another suggestion is to keep the loveys away from dust: Maybe they have “allergies,” too, just like your child, and need to be put away when the house is dusted or vacuumed. Make sure neither the child nor the toy is exposed to tobacco smoke.

The same care should be given to any other fuzzy items, such as bathrobes, blankets and even knitted scarves and hats. Keep them clean and free of dust and mites the same way — wash them frequently — or freeze them or put them in the dryer on high heat. Also, keep them off the floor and away from dust, smoke and pets.

Reducing Allergies from Pets

Now, what about Fido and Fluffy? Chances are that your child may react more to pollen or mold that pets bring in on their feet and fur than to the pet itself, Dr. Loughlin says.

She offers these ideas:

  • Wash hands immediately after petting the animal, before the child touches his or her face or eyes. Bathe before bed and slip into nice, clean pajamas.
  • Bathe the animal regularly (at least dogs — cats aren’t typically fans of the tub).
  • Wipe down the pet’s feet and fur when it comes inside.
  • Keep the pet out of the child’s bedroom, or at least off the bed.

“It’s up to the family to decide what’s best for them,” Dr. Loughlin says. “The benefits of cuddling a toy or playing with a puppy may outweigh the discomfort of allergy symptoms.”

Treating Allergies in Children

If the toys and pets get to stay, your child might need to take allergy medicine. Nasal sprays often work well for older children who are able to insert them in their nose and breathe in the mist. Others might find it easier to swallow a teaspoon of an antihistamine medicine or take a pill. Since some of these medicines can make a child drowsy, it’s usually best to give them at bedtime, Dr. Loughlin says.

With new items in the house, you might want to watch for skin reactions, too. Eczema — or atopic dermatitis — may show up as redness, an itchy rash or tiny blisters. Talk to your doctor about the best treatment.

And remember, winter won’t last forever. Not too long after you get the decorations packed away and all the candy canes eaten, signs of spring will emerge, especially for people living in warmer climates. With those pink buds and early buttercups come pollen and other spring allergy triggers.

“Be alert and be ready,” Dr. Loughlin says. “When we get some of those warm February days, talk to your doctor about when you might need to starting taking your allergy medicines again. Don’t wait until the symptoms make your child miserable.”

A final note: Food allergies, whether from holiday treats or snacks at a spring baseball game, are potentially very dangerous any time of year. If your child has a reaction to a food, including swelling of the mouth and lips; hives or rash; abdominal pain, vomiting or diarrhea, seek medical help promptly. If your child is having trouble breathing or losing consciousness, call 911 immediately and use an EpiPen (epinephrine) if you have one.


Learn more about how to control your child’s allergies and talk to your doctor about possible treatments. Need a doctor? Find a doctor near you.