Causes Of Hay Fever In Children, Its Symptoms And Treatment

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Hay fever in children is due to the child’s immune system’s hypersensitivity to allergens such as pollen. It is also called allergic rhinitis, characterized by inflammation of the nasal passages that occurs when exposed to the allergens present in the air.

Hay fever affects nearly 30% of children. Besides the nose, hay fever may also affect the sinuses, throat, ears, and eyes. It is common among children with asthma and other allergic disorders (1).

Children allergic to pollen may experience seasonal hay fever during the summer and spring months. Alternatively, children allergic to dust mites or pet dander may experience hay fever throughout the year (perennial hay fever).

Read on to know more about this allergic condition, its symptoms, etiology, risk factors, complications, diagnosis, and treatment. We have also included a few preventive measures that can be helpful.

Causes Of Hay Fever In Children

Breathing in allergens can trigger hay fever in children. The tiny hairs and mucus in the nose trap allergens in the nose, and these trapped allergens can cause hay fever symptoms in children. Allergens that trigger hay fever may include (1)

  • Pollen from trees, grasses, and flowers
  • Dust mites
  • Animal hair or fur (pet dander)
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Mold spores

Animal dander, dust mites, and mold spores can cause perennial hay fever (throughout the year), while pollen allergies are often seasonal. However, there can be an increased incidence of hay fever due to specific factors in certain seasons (1).

  • Dust mite allergies in winters, when the houses are usually kept closed
  • Pet dander allergies in shedding seasons
  • Mold allergies from early spring through late summer months
  • Ragweed pollen in fall
  • Tree pollen in early spring
  • Grass pollen in late spring and summer

Knowing the cause can help prevent hay fever, and taking precautions and preventive measures in particular seasons can help avoid hay fever in some children. You may seek medical care from an allergist to identify the exact cause of hay fever in your child and plan the treatment.

Risk Factors For Hay Fever In Children

Environmental and genetic factors can trigger hay fever in children. Certain respiratory and skin conditions may also increase children’s risk of developing hay fever. The common risk factors for hay fever in children may include (2)

  • Asthma and allergies
  • Maternal smoking during pregnancy and infancy
  • Atopic dermatitis (eczema)
  • Residing in an environment with allergens such as dust mites, pollen, and animal dander

Signs And Symptoms Of Hay Fever

The following are the common signs and symptoms of hay fever in children (1).

  • Frequent sneezing
  • Watery, red, swollen, or itchy eyes
  • Nasal congestion in one or both nostrils
  • Headaches
  • Itchy ears, throat, nose, or roof of the mouth

Untreated hay fever can lead to poor sleep quality and cause tiredness and daytime sleepiness in children. Hay fever may also worsen the symptoms of asthma, sinus infections, and eye infections and cause bad breath and sore throat in children. Severe cases of hay fever may also negatively impact a child’s academic performance and learning.

Hay Fever And The Common Cold

The signs and symptoms of hay fever and the common cold are similar and often difficult to distinguish.

Common colds may occur one or three days after exposure to the causative agent and last for three to seven days. In contrast, hay fever symptoms may begin immediately after the exposure to the allergens and last as long the child is exposed.

Although both conditions can cause symptoms such as a runny nose and watery discharge, common colds may cause more thick yellow mucus discharge, body aches, and low-grade fever in children. Hay fever is not associated with fever in children and is also not caused by a virus (2).

Complications Of Hay Fever

Hay fever symptoms may affect a child’s sleep and result in fatigue and tiredness in children. Besides this, the other possible complications associated with hay fever in children include (2)

  • Sinusitis: Hay fever can cause prolonged sinus congestion and result in sinus infection and inflammation (sinusitis) in children.
  • Asthma exacerbations: Asthma symptoms such as coughing and wheezing can be worsened by hay
  • Ear infection: Hay fever can increase the child’s risk for otitis media (middle ear infection) in children.

How To Prevent Hay Fever In Children?

It is difficult to avoid exposure to allergens, such as pollen, completely. However, the following tips may help reduce exposure to allergens in children (3).

  • Rub a small amount of petroleum jelly (Vaseline) inside the lower nostrils to prevent allergens from entering the nasal passages.
  • Keep the windows and doors closed during the pollen seasons and use air conditioning for ventilation.
  • Vacuum the house regularly with machines that have HEPA (high-frequency particle arresting) filters.
  • Do not keep fresh flowers inside the room if the child is allergic to pollen allergies.
  • Clean house dust with a damp cloth regularly.
  • Avoid keeping pets in the child’s room. Groom and bathe the pets to minimize pet dander. Also, seek advice from the veterinarian for tools such as special brushes to minimize fur shedding.
  • Avoid smoking anywhere near the child. Breathing in the smoke can trigger hay fever in some children.
  • During the pollen season, avoid drying clothes outside. This may bring pollen into the house.
  • Wear wrap-around sunglasses and a mask when outdoors during the pollen seasons to prevent pollen from getting into the eyes and
  • Change clothes and take a shower after returning home from outdoors.
  • Keep the car windows closed while traveling and change the car vent filters
  • Avoid camping, playing, or walking in grassy areas, especially in the early morning, evening, and night when the pollen count can be high. Grass cutting can also increase the child’s risk for pollen exposure.

Not all allergies can be prevented. However, you may give preventive medications to your child during peak seasons as per the pediatrician’s recommendations.

Diagnosis Of Hay Fever In Children

The medical history, physical examination, and symptoms can help the pediatrician diagnose hay fever in children. For example, dark circles and creases under the eyes, on nose and swollen tissue inside the nose can be seen during a physical examination in children with hay fever (4).

The pediatrician may refer the child to allergists, who may do skin tests to identify the cause. Other tests may also be ordered to identify or exclude any other medical conditions in children.

Treatment For Hay Fever

There is no specific cure for hay fever. However, the existing treatments may help improve symptoms and provide relief. Identifying the cause and avoiding or minimizing exposure to allergens is the best way to manage hay fever in children.

The following medications are often prescribed to treat hay fever in children (1).

  • Steroid nasal sprays in low dose for older children
  • Immunotherapy for severe hay fever. This is a long-term treatment involving gradual exposure to allergens to build up a tolerance.

Over-the-counter medications are not recommended for allergic conditions in children. However, you may consult a pediatrician and get prescription medications based on your child’s symptoms, severity, and health status.

Children with asthma and other allergic disorders are more likely to develop hay fever. Breathing in allergens such as dust mites, pollen, and smoke can affect the nose, sinuses, throat, ears, and eyes. Therefore, avoiding triggers can help reduce hay fever symptoms in children. Untreated instances can negatively influence your child’s quality of life and lead to complications. Therefore, it is also advised to seek prompt medical care if your child exhibits hay fever symptoms. Additionally, cleaning the house and avoiding play or walks in grassy areas, especially at night or early morning, could also help.

Key Pointers

  • Inhaling allergens such as dust mites, pollen, cigarette smoke, and other substances can trigger hay fever in children.
  • Some respiratory and skin disorders might make kids more susceptible to hay fever.
  • Frequent sneezing, runny nose, blocked nose, watery eyes, itching ears, etc., are some prevalent symptoms.
  • The best strategy to manage hay fever in children is to identify the cause and avoid or minimize exposure to allergens.


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Dr. Supriya Mahajan

Dr. Supriya Mahajan is a pediatrician and pediatric hepatologist with nine years of experience. She completed her MBBS from Shyam Shah Medical College and diploma from the National Board of Education, New Delhi. She went on to gain specialization in the gut and liver-related diseases in children from the Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences and MRCPCH 1, 2 from... more

Dr Bisny T. Joseph

Dr. Bisny T. Joseph is a Georgian Board-certified physician. She has completed her professional graduate degree as a medical doctor from Tbilisi State Medical University, Georgia. She has 3+ years of experience in various sectors of medical affairs as a physician, medical reviewer, medical writer, health coach, and Q&A expert. Her interest in digital medical education and patient education made... more