Can babies get hay fever?

Is it hay fever or is it a cold? How can you tell? Will your baby get hay fever if you have it? And how can you treat the symptoms? We ask an allergy expert all about hay fever in babies

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In a nutshell: The answer is yes, but it’s not very common in children under the age of 5.

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“Hay fever is an allergy to pollen and can affect even very young children and babies,” says Lindsey McManus of Allergy UK. “It’s more likely to if another close family member has hay fever, too – or if a baby or child also has an asthma diagnosis.”

What are the symptoms of baby hay fever?

Hay fever symptoms in babies are very similar to hay fever symptoms in adults. A baby with hay fever may:

  • Rub their eyes because they’re itchy
  • Have red, watery eyes
  • Have a constant runny nose – with clear, rather than thick, mucus
  • Sneeze, particularly if they’re outdoors
  • Cough
  • Wheeze or display other asthma symptoms

Is hay fever or covid? How to tell

Some hay fever symptoms, such as a runny nose and sneezing, may also be symptoms of Covid infection. But, says our expert GP Dr Philippa KayeCovid usually causes at least 1 of the following 3 symptoms that aren’t closely associated with hay fever:

  • A high temperature
  • A new, persistent cough
  • Loss or change to smell or taste. This one’s tricky to tell, we know, because your baby can’t tell you if they’ve lost their sense of taste and smell – although if they’re not feeding much or seem to have lost their appetite, that might be a clue. 

The other symptoms of Covid in babies include:

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Sore throat
  • Diarrhoea
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting

As we’re sure you know only too well, this list also applies to many other childhood illnesses. But, if you spot these symptoms, you may want to do a lateral-flow test to rule out Covid if there are people in your household or your child’s childcare setting that you’d like to protect from Covid infection.

What time of year is my baby likely to have hay fever symptoms?

The UK hay fever ‘season’ runs from late March to September, when, one after the other, grasses, trees, weeds, plants and outdoor moulds which are wind-pollinated release their fine, powdery pollen into the air.

The 3 main pollen trigger periods are:

  • March to May: tree pollen
  • May to July: grass pollen (the most common hay fever trigger)
  • June to September: weed pollen

“Some children with hay fever react to 1 type of pollen during that specific trigger period, and then feel better,” says Lindsey, “Others will possibly be affected by more than 1 type of pollen, and so have symptoms for much longer over the spring and summer.”

How can I tell my baby has hay fever and not a cold or another allergy?

Hay fever is seasonal, its sneezy, runny-nose, red-eye symptoms only happen when there is pollen in the air – from March to September. So you can tell your baby’s likely to have hay fever and not something else if the symptoms:

  • Happen in the spring / summer months
  • Get better/clear up when your baby’s away from grass/trees/weeds
  • Are worse on warm and sunny days (when pollen counts are often high)
  • Don’t clear up after a few days (as a cold would)
  • Don’t come with a temperature (as a cold might)

If your baby’s sneezing and red-eyed out of pollen season, and doesn’t seem to have a cold, then it’s possible they might have another allergy, perhaps to pet hair or dust mites. In this case, it’s best to see your GP and see if allergy testing would be a good idea.

Should I take my baby to the doctor if they have hay fever?

Yes. “An accurate diagnosis is important,” says Lindsey. Your doctor will need to be certain that it’s an allergy to pollen, and not something else.

Your GP will examine your baby’s nose, and take yours and your baby’s medical history – as hay fever is linked to asthma and eczema, and both can be handed down through families.

What are the best medicines for a baby with hay fever?

Most doctors won’t prescribe antihistamines to treat hay fever in babies under 1 year old, says Lindsey.

“Adult hay fever treatments, such as Piriton, are not licensed for use in children under 12 months,” she says.

On our MadeForMums forum, mum xxxxBOOxxxx says, “My little baby suffered terribly last year with hay fever. They wouldn’t give a baby [under 1] anything unless it started to affect breathing. I got him some baby sunglasses to help his eyes. As far as I’m aware there isn’t much else you can do for them, I’m afraid.”

How can I relieve baby hay fever symptoms naturally?

There are lots of practical ways to help a baby suffering from hay fever, says Lindsey from Allergy UK.

Here are her top 9 baby-safe tips.

  1. Wash your baby’s face with cool water to remove pollen from their face.
  2. Put a brimmed hat on your baby when you’re both outside.
  3. Gently smear a tiny bit of baby-friendly nasal balm around your baby’s nose, as this can help prevent the pollen getting in. Our forum mum xxxxBOOxxxx had some success with this: “I’ve been putting Vaseline under his nose and he’s been a lot better.”
  4. If your baby will let you, put time in a pair of sunglasses (particularly wraparound ones) to protect their eyes against pollen. As Claire-abelle on our forum, whose little boy has hay fever, says, “Sunglasses are a godsend!”
  5. Check the daily pollen forecast. Children who are especially sensitive to pollen might start to get hay fever symptoms when the pollen count is as low as 10; when it reaches 50, most sufferers will start to struggle.
  6. Keep your baby away from gardens and parks when the pollen count is high – especially if the grass has just been cut. Choose a walk on streets instead. Even better, if you can, head for the seaside.
  7. Change your baby’s clothes and wash your baby’s hair after you’ve been outside to remove any trapped pollen.
  8. Give pets who’ve been outside a wipe-down to get rid of pollen in their fur.
  9. Don’t dry your baby’s clothes, bedding or your clothes on a washing line outside on high pollen days as the pollen can attach to these.

Does hay fever run in families?

Yes, there is definitely a genetic link – but that doesn’t mean your baby is guaranteed to get hay fever if you have hay fever, says Lindsey.

“Allergies can run in families, but they’re not always inherited,” she says. And sometimes, the type of allergy that is passed down from parent to child can be different from the condition the parent has. For example, you could have hay fever, but your child might develop eczema.

That’s certainly been the experience of BigMumma on our forum. “I know hay fever, eczema and asthma are linked,” she says, “and can be hereditary. I suffered from asthma as a baby, eczema all my life, and hay fever since my teens. My eldest suffered from asthma as a child, my middle one has eczema, and now my youngest has hay fever!”

Last updated: July 28 2021

Pic: Getty Images

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