Does my toddler have hay fever?
Expert advice on the signs and symptoms to look out for if you think your toddler has hay fever – and some safe and natural ways to treat it
Spring and summer are the peak of the hay fever season – with tree, grass and weed pollens released into the air in overlapping waves from as early as February until mid-September. So if, at this time of year, your toddler has itchy eyes, is sneezing and has a runny nose, does that mean they have hay fever? It could well do...
What are the symptoms of hay fever in toddlers?
A toddler with hay fever may:
- Rub their eyes because they're itchy
- Have watery, red or swollen eyes
- Have a constant runny nose – with clear, rather than thick, mucus
- Sneeze, particularly when outdoors
- Complain of itching in the nose, throat, eyes or ears
- Develop a nettle-like reach (urticaria), if they come into contact with pollen
- Have eczema that is worse in the pollen season, especially on areas not covered by clothing, such as the face and hands
These symptoms can vary in intensity from mild and irritating to severe and causing significant disruption to your toddler's daily life.
What times of year are the key times for hay fever symptoms?
The UK hay fever 'season' runs from late February to September, when, one after the other, trees, weeds, plants, and grasses that are wind-pollinated release their fine, powdery pollen into the air.
The 3 main pollen trigger periods are:
- February to May: tree pollen
- May to July/August: grass pollen (the most common hay fever trigger)
- April to September: weed pollen
"Some children with hay fever react to 1 type of pollen – grass pollen, say – and so have symptoms when grass pollen is around and then feel better," says Margaret, "Others will possibly be affected by more than 1 type of pollen, and so have symptoms for much longer over the spring and summer."
What exactly is hay fever?
Hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen. In Britain, most people who get hay fever are affected by grass pollen, although flowers, trees and even mould can also cause it.
Susceptibility to hayfever (and other allergies) can be inherited, so your toddler is more likely to get hay fever if there's a family history of asthma, eczema or hay fever.
How can I tell my toddler has hay fever and not just a cold – or something else?
Hay fever is seasonal: its sneezy, runny-nose, red-eye symptoms only happen when there is pollen in the air – from February to September. So you can tell your child'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 toddler'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)
- Improve with a child-appropriate dose of antihistamine (see Are there any hay fever medications toddlers can take?, below)
If your toddler is sneezing and has itchy runny nose and eyes 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 to find out if allergy testing would be a good idea.
More like this
Are there any hay fever medicines toddlers can take?
Yes, if your toddler is over the age of 1. But you should always check with your doctor or pharmacist before giving your toddler any medicine.
Non-sedating antihistamines are often the best treatment for multiple hay fever symptoms in your toddler. Make sure you get an accurate diagnosis from your GP first and a prescription for the correct dose for your child's age
Sore eyes can be treated with lubricating eye drops or washes. Anti-allergy eye drops, such as sodium cromoglycate (available from pharmacies), may also help – if your toddler will let you put eye drops in.
If your toddler is short of breath or is wheezing, an asthma inhaler (prescribed by your GP) may be useful. And, if your toddler's nose is badly affected, a steroid nose spray can help. These are available over the counter for adults but are prescription-only for your child. Ideally (but not always practically), you should start using a nose spray like this about 4 weeks before you anticipate symptoms beginning.
What natural remedies are safe to use for hay fever in toddlers?
- A daily dose of local honey made by local bees is often cited as a way of getting the body used to the pollen produced in the area where you live. This should be started as early in the year as possible. However, the effectiveness of this treatment has yet to be proven and honey should not be given to children under 1.
- Try giving your child apples and red onions, which contain the natural antihistamine quercetin. Eating pineapple also helps the body to absorb quercetin more easily.
- Brightly coloured fruit and veg, such as oranges, watermelon, grapefruit, red pepper and carrots, are stuffed full of vitamin C and bioflavonoids, which can help the body to tackle hay fever symptoms.
What other practical steps can I take to relieve my toddler's hay fever symptoms?
My best advice is to stay inside as much as possible, especially in the early morning and evening, when pollen counts are higher.
Don't be tempted to open windows to keep bedrooms cool, as the pollen count is highest in the evening and at dawn. Instead, if you can, invest in a purifying fan or a portable air conditioning unit.
Before you go out during hay fever season:
- Check the daily pollen forecast and don't go to parks or gardens when the pollen count is high, and especially not if the grass has just been cut
- Get your child to wear a pair of wrap-around sunglasses and a machine-washable, broad-brimmed hat
- Apply a non-fragranced emollient to your child's skin at least 1 hour before going outside. On sunny days, apply a factor 50 sunscreen to sun-exposed areas.
- Smear a tiny bit of Vaseline or nasal balm around your child's nose to trap pollen and reduce the amount they breathe in
When you get home during hay fever season:
- Put your child's hat in the washing machine
- Take off the clothes they have been wearing outside
- Wash your toddler's face with cool water
- Give them a warm shower or bath, including a hair wash, to remove any remaining pollen
- Brush or wipe down pets before they come back inside the house to remove any trapped pollen
It's also worth knowing that pollen can attach to clothes and bedding when it is dried outside, so avoid hanging your washing out if the pollen forecast is high.
About our expert Dr Lowri KewDr Lowri Kew is a GP and the co-author of Your Baby's First Year: Month-by-Month What to Expect and How to Care for Your Baby. She has a special interest in paediatrics and is also a GP trainer, with a passion for helping GPs stay up to date in order to ensure good patient care.
Last reviewed: 11 May 2023
Pics: Getty Images
Six big family moments that matter – and the products that make them easier to navigate
These products from John Lewis & Partners help support the memorable moments of family life.