Health and Wellbeing

Hay Fever

The Health Centre in recent weeks has seen a surge in the number of students who have presented with Hay fever symptoms as we draw closer to spring:

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 sensitivities, like asthma, eczema or food allergies.

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
  • headaches.
  • persistent throat clearing

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. The body misrecognises pollen allergens as being potentially harmful – like a bacteria or virus – and it tries to expel it from the body by producing mucus and tearing up of the eyes.

Triggers include  
  • pollen (from grasses, flowers and trees)  
    • animal fur or hair (dander)
    • mould spores
    • cigarette smoke.
    • Dust mites

If your child has perennial (all year) hay fever, they will most likely be allergic to dust mites, animal dander and/or mould spores rather than pollens

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 skin prick tests) to identify the cause. Your doctor may suggest using medication to help relieve your child's symptoms, such as non-sedating antihistamines or a low dose steroid nasal spray. Your doctor or pharmacist can give advice on which medication may be best for your child

  • On windy days in spring, stay indoors as much as possible
  • Rinse your eyes regularly with cold water to flush away pollen.
  • Monitor the daily pollen count and forecast so you know if it’s a high pollen day and manage your exposure as much as possible on days when the count is high.
  • When pollen counts are higher, have your chosen treatment at hand.
  • Effective over-the-counter treatments include eye drops to ease itchy swollen eyes, decongestant or corticosteroid nasal sprays, and antihistamine medications for sneezing and itching.
  • A salt water nasal spray can also help flush out pollens.

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.

Talk to your doctor about immunotherapy if your child has serious allergic reactions.

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.