Hay fever is the common name for a condition called allergic rhinitis, which means an allergy that mainly affects the nose. However, hay fever can also affect your eyes, throat, sinuses and ears.
Seasonal hay fever occurs mainly in spring and summer, and affects people allergic to pollens. Hay fever can also occur all year round – this is called perennial hay fever.
Hay fever is very common, and affects up to 30 per cent of children. Children with hay fever commonly also have other allergic conditions like asthma, eczema or food allergy.
Signs and symptoms of hay fever
If your child has hay fever, they may have:
- frequent bouts of sneezing
- a runny nose
- blocked nose (either one or both nostrils)
- itchy ears, nose, throat and roof of the mouth
- red, itchy, swollen and/or watery eyes
If hay fever is left untreated it can lead to poor quality sleep, tiredness and daytime sleepiness. In some cases, hay fever can also:
- make asthma more difficult to control
- increase the chance of sinus infections
- affect your child's learning and performance
- lead to bad breath, a husky voice and/or a sore throat
- cause more frequent eye infections because children rub itchy eyes.
What causes hay fever?
Hay fever is triggered by what we breathe in. The small hairs and mucus in the nose trap dust, pollens and other tiny particles. Someone with hay fever is allergic to some of the particles that get trapped in their nose.
- pollen (from grasses, flowers and trees)
- dust mites
- animal fur or hair (dander)
- mould spores.
If your child has perennial (all year) hay fever, they will most likely be allergic to dust mites and/or animal dander.
Treatment for hay fever
Hay fever cannot be cured, but there are a number of ways you can improve the symptoms and give your child some relief.
The best way to reduce the frequency of your child's hay fever is to identify what causes your child's allergic reaction and then try to avoid contact with it, or at least minimise contact.
Sometimes the cause is obvious, such as a pet. If you are having trouble working out the cause of your child's hay fever, see your GP. The doctor will ask questions and may suggest allergy tests (such as a skin prick test or an allergy blood test) to identify the cause.
If your child is allergic to pollen, checking the pollen count for your region can help you be aware when your child's hay fever might be worse.
Your doctor may suggest using medication to help relieve your child's symptoms, such as:
- non-drowsy antihistamines
- steroid nasal sprays, which may be useful for older children.
Your doctor or pharmacist can give advice on which medication may be best for your child.
Immunotherapy may be a suitable treatment option if your child has severe hay fever. Immunotherapy is a long-term treatment that involves exposing your child to small amounts of the allergen (the substance they are allergic to). This allows your child to gradually build up their
tolerance to the allergen, which will ultimately reduce their symptoms long-term. Talk to your doctor about immunotherapy if your child has severe symptoms and other medications are not helping.
Key points to remember
- Hay fever is an allergic reaction that mainly affects the nose.
- It is most common in spring and summer, but can occur all year round.
- Avoiding triggers is the best way to reduce the frequency of hay fever symptoms.
- Medications may help relieve symptoms.
For more information
Common questions our doctors are asked
Are skin prick tests reliable?
Skin prick testing can be helpful for working out what your child is allergic to. If the skin test is negative this suggests that the allergen tested is not the cause of the hay fever. However, some children will have a positive allergy test but do not develop symptoms when exposed to the allergen. Your child's
allergist will discuss the findings with you.
Are nasal steroid sprays safe to use?
Nasal steroid sprays are the most effective medicine available for hay fever if your child presents mainly nasal symptoms, and most products are safe for use in children. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about which products can safely be used on your
child. Always follow the instructions on the packaging. Some nasal steroids are only suitable in children over two years old, and some are not recommended for children under 12 years old.
What does immunotherapy involve?
If your child is having immunotherapy, they will be given a small amount of the allergen, either by injection or orally/under the tongue in tablet or liquid form. A typical treatment course requires monthly injections over a period of three to five years, or taking the allergen orally
each day for three years. Immunotherapy may be suitable for older children whose symptoms are not well controlled by antihistamines and steroid nasal sprays. Before starting immunotherapy, it is important that your child's allergens are clearly identified.
Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.
Reviewed October 2021.
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