Hay fever: What to know & how to treat it
Updated: Apr 13, 2019
A stuffy nose in a child usually means one of three things: a cold, an irritation such as teething or an allergy. Colds generally last a few days and don't cause prolonged snuffliness in children. Irritation can be caused by teething, cigarette smoke, dust and paint fumes. In the absence of these or any other obvious irritants, the problem is possibly due to be an allergy. Hay fever is not usually seen in very young children and generally evolves over 2-3 years as children are exposed to allergens in the air. If your child has symptoms which are only there during the summer months, then a diagnosis of hay fever is more likely. There are other possible causes of what is termed rhinitis – simply a blocked and runny nose.
Hay fever is an allergy to pollen. The symptoms are limited to the lining of the respiratory system. This lining coats the nasal passages, the back of the throat, and extends over the eyes. When it is inflamed or irritated by allergens such as pollens the resulting excess mucus production gives rise to the symptoms of hay fever.
Tree pollens appear in the spring and are followed in the spring and early summer by flower pollens, and finally by the grass pollens in mid to late summer. All the pollens can be in the air right through to the autumn. Some children and young people may suffer all the way through the pollen season.
In some cases of allergy it may be possible to reduce the exposure the child receives to the allergen (the thing that causes the allergy). So, for example, if your child is allergic to your family pet, you might want to keep the pet out of certain rooms at home. But, as you might expect with hay fever, it's very difficult to change or reduce the pollen levels, especially if you live in the countryside.
Treatment is by antihistamines, either taken by mouth or with a nasal spray. The treatments often contain steroids, which are safe and effective at the low doses used in these preparations. Antihistamine eye drops and another preventative medication called cromoglycate eye drops are available, but young children are not keen on eye drops, especially as they have to be repeated several times during the day. You might find that your child isn't happy to use a nasal spray either. The usual treatment is some form of antihistamine, either as a liquid or as a tablet either of which are commonly used in the younger age group .
Simple tips to help limit the misery of hay fever:
keep an eye on the pollen count in your area which is generally reported on weather broadcasts during the spring/summer months
limit time outdoors, the ideal time to go out is just after an afternoon rain shower
stay away from large grassy areas particularly when freshly mowed
don’t hang clothes or bed linen outside to dry when there is a high pollen count
wash body, hair and clothes following a trip outside
If you are concerned that your child may have hay fever and would like confirmation, allergy testing can be organised via our Practice and for more troublesome symptoms a referral to one of our Consultant Paediatric Allergists can be arranged.
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