Hay fever in babies and young children
Have you ever wondered if your child has hay fever? Maybe you’ve noticed your little one sneezing a lot, or you have to constantly wipe their runny nose. Maybe they seem to be blocked up and you struggle to help them blow their nose. Hay fever doesn’t only affect adults: it can affect young children too. Learn about the tell-tale signs of hay fever and get simple tips on how to avoid hay fever triggers.
What is hay fever and what’s causing it?
Hay fever is a type of allergic rhinitis, an inflammation of the tissue lining the nose. Specifically, hay fever is a respiratory allergy against pollen, the fine powdery dust from grasses, trees and weeds. The immune system identifies the harmless pollen as dangerous intruders and activates its defence mechanisms.
Hay fever symptoms occur when pollen is in the air from early-spring, through the summer and even into the autumn. That's why hay fever is called "seasonal allergic rhinitis".
When your child has hay fever-like symptoms all year round, this might be an allergy to, for example, house dust mites or a pet. This is called “perennial allergic rhinitis”, which means it's present all year. The symptoms are almost identical, but the triggers are different.
How common is hay fever in babies and children?
Most people get hay fever as adults, but the allergy can begin in childhood.
- In babies under 15 months both seasonal and perennial allergic rhinitis are rare.
- From 18 months, however, children can develop allergic rhinitis.
- It’s slightly more common in boys than girls.
- In the UK, one in ten school-age children are affected.
Genetics do play a role and allergies tend to run in families. Normally a child has around a 12% chance of developing an allergy. But if one parent has allergy, this increases to 50%. If both parents have allergy, the risk increases to 60-80%.
What are the symptoms of hay fever in babies and children?
The symptoms of hay fever include:
- A blocked nose. You may notice your child struggles to breathe through their nose or that your baby snores when sleeping. You may notice that feeding has become a challenge because your baby is finding it difficult to breathe normally while suckling.
- A runny nose. Snotty noses are a part of growing up, but your child may have frequent, sudden bouts of a runny nose.
- Your baby’s first sneeze may seem cute. Repeated sneezing from hay fever can quickly stop being cute and start causing concern.
- Red or watery eyes. Your baby’s eyes may be affected by symptoms of hay fever. Your baby’s eyes may appear red, itchy, swollen or overflowing with tears.
- Poor sleep. Hay fever may affect the quality of your child’s sleep. This can lead to tiredness and concentration problems in school.
Hay fever symptoms vs a summer cold
Symptoms of hay fever are similar to a common cold and sometimes difficult to distinguish. Since young children get around six to eight respiratory infections per year, it can be tricky to tell whether your child has a cold or may have hay fever.
To tell the difference two aspects are important: how fast do symptoms appear and how long do they last?
- Develops over a few days
- Most often resolves within a few days or a week
- Can appear quite suddenly
- Usually lasts longer and or keeps coming back.
If you notice any hay fever symptoms in your baby or young child, book an appointment with your GP. An early diagnosis will help you treat your child's allergies.
How can I help my child with their hay fever?
If possible try to limit the amount of pollen your child is exposed to. It’s not always easy to avoid pollen but here are some tips to help:
- Use a pollen calendar and pollen forecast. Check the pollen count so that you can plan outings with your child when the level of pollen is lower. Our app Klara can give you accurate pollen forecasts personalised to your child's allergy.
- Put on hat and sunglasses. Protect your child from sunburn and lower the amount of pollen reaching their eyes and face.
- Keep pollen out of your house. Keep windows and doors closed when you can. Open them only when the pollen count is low. You can also install air conditioning or special air purifiers.
- Wash your child's hair often. This will help to remove pollen, especially before bedtime.
- No pollen in the bed. Day clothes should be taken off outside your child's bedroom.
- Don't dry laundry outside. Use a tumble dryer or hang your laundry inside your home.
- Go on holiday! If possible, go to the sea or in the mountains during the worst periods as pollen counts are generally lower there.
Diagnosis leads to effective treatment
If your child is diagnosed with allergies it’s a good idea to maintain regular check-ups with your GP. Several allergies can occur at the same time and they may change and new ones develop. A proper diagnosis is crucial for better managing and treating hay fever.
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