Don't Worry, It's 'Just' Allergies, Not A Contagious Illness

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 

I promptly cover my toddler’s mouth with my hand for the one-millionth time that day. We’re at an appointment, and she’s coughing away. I fish her sippy cup out of my bag.

“She’s not sick,” I pipe up. “It’s just allergies.”

After parenting for over a decade, you’d think I’d be used to the second glances, whispers, and wide-eyes of those around us during allergy season. The looks on their faces send a clear message.

Why are your kids in public? Don’t you dare get us sick.

They are petrified that my kids are spreading a contagious illness. And that virus will then spread like wildfire through their own households.

Look. I get it. I cannot stand when parents take their sick kids places, especially during cold and flu season.

But that’s not what we’re talking about now. Because heads up, allergies are not contagious.

There’s a tidal wave of mommy shame comes over me everywhere we go right now, and I feel the chronic need to let the world know that my kids aren’t sharing a dreaded virus. I don’t want to appear to be a negligent mom who doesn’t care about others’ health.

So I loudly say, daily, that it’s just allergies. But really, there’s no “just” about it.

This allergy season has been brutal. Our lovely screened-in porch is coated in yellow pollen. When we vacuum and dust it, the film reappears within an hour. It’s a pointless battle.

Like many allergy-suffering families, we follow doctor’s orders. The list is extensive and imperfect. Stay indoors and keep the windows closed. Change your clothing after any outdoor activity. Keep your rescue inhaler on hand. Remove your shoes when you step into your home.

Despite following all of the allergist’s advice, allergies and asthma are relentless jerks that cannot be tamed.


We’ve tried every allergy medication, eye drop, and nose spray known, and none seem to offer perfect relief. So we sniff and cough, toting around a jumbo box of tissues and water bottles. The hum of the nebulizer, used to treat asthma, runs often, especially at night before the kids go to bed.

I’ve been offered a lot of unsolicited advice from strangers. This usually occurs after confessing, yet again, that my child is definitely not sick. That’s when the interrogation begins, and I admit, a lot of the advice is laughable.

Have I tried diffusing a special blend of breathe-easy-forever essential oils? What about chiropractic care? Why not a teaspoon of local, raw honey daily? Maybe a good probiotic? Acupuncture?

Not all the advice is freely offered. There’s a motive.

Some of those who offer a magical solution to allergies are trying to sell me products. For just $59.99 a month, a gummy of “greens” can restore my child to perfect health.

I can also buy a vial of organic, anti-allergy essential oil for $29.99. The downside? I’ll need a new vial every three weeks. The upside? My kid’s allergies will be cured.

I’m not having it.

There’s no way out, mamas. Allergies suck, and experience has taught me there is no magical solution.

Families with kids with allergies struggle to strike a balance between living life but not exacerbating suffering by too much outdoor exposure. Yet moms like me are tortured by the fact that if our kids don’t get outside, they’re indoors. Literally bouncing off the walls.

Allergy season is like Trump in your newsfeed. There’s not a whole lot we can do but ride it out.

It’s bad enough that allergy season hits once, but the reality is, it’s twice a year. From March to June, and again from September until the first hard freeze. Torture.

With the spring beauty of blossoming trees and green grass comes dry, red eyes, runny noses, and persistent coughs. For two of my four kids, this can also lead to asthmatic episodes.

We were only six days (yes, six) into the new year when we had our first medical visit for asthma, still stuck in a mild winter. We left after a breathing treatment with a $1000 emergency room bill and a bouncing-off-the-walls child.

This year, it seems that allergies and asthma didn’t have an off-season, and guess what? Global warming is partially responsible.

I was shocked to learn this, narrow-mindedly assuming global warming is a scientific issue and, of course, a humanity issue. But what I discovered is that global warming is also a health issue for families with allergies and asthma.

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America and the National Wildlife Federation, climate change impacts asthma and allergy sufferers. Specifically, global warming expedites the pollen, mold, and poison ivy counts. As a result, more allergens mean a greater likelihood of allergy and asthma attacks in those who suffer. Air pollution is also worse.

So before you fault this mama for her “sick” kid, look to your elected policy-makers and what they are (or aren’t) doing about global warming.

One of the other issues is that allergy and asthma medications are expensive, beyond what many families can afford. For example, a rescue inhaler used to treat an asthma attack can cost approximately $45-$80 each. Some families have no choice but to skip giving their children daily maintenance and rescue medications at home. This can unfortunately lead to asthma attacks that land children in the emergency room or even in the hospital.

Allergies, asthma, and eczema can have a genetic component, though the exact rates are unknown. There are also environmental factors at play.

Because of the many factors, most of them out of the control of those who suffer, the judgement and assumptions that our kids are sick isn’t helpful or appreciated.

Like all parenting issues, it’s best to come alongside a fellow mom and support her, not question her choices or presume to understand what’s going on with her kids.

I’m going to keep frantically covering my kids’ every sneeze and cough. But I’m also mindful that no matter how many times I justify their symptoms by saying it’s just allergies, some are still going to be skeptical and critical.

That’s okay. I get it. But could you be a dear and pass the tissue box?

This article was originally published on