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 ways to treat it

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Spring and summer are the peak of the hay fever season – with grass pollens released into the air from May until mid-August, and wild flower pollens from June until mid-September. And 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…

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What are the symptoms of toddler hay fever?

These vary from being mild and irritating to severe, which can cause significant disruption to your toddler’s daily life, and can include:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny or blocked nose
  • Itching in the nose, throat, eyes or ears
  • Headache
  • Watery red or swollen eyes
  • Shortness of breath or wheezing

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:

  • Fever
  • A new, persistent cough
  • Loss or change of taste and smell

Covid can also cause other symptoms in young children, which include:

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

Some of these symptoms do overlap with hay fever symptoms – and also with symptoms of other childhood illnesses.

The bottom line, say Dr Philippa, is that even if you think your toddler has hay fever, a cold or another virus, if they have any of the symptoms of Covid then you and your household must get a free PCR test and isolate until you get the results.

Thankfully, Covid (if that is what it turns out to be) is usually mild in in toddlers and young children.

What is hay fever?

Hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen. In Britain most people are affected by grass pollen, although flowers, trees and even mould can cause it.

Your toddler is also more likely to suffer if there’s a family history of asthma, eczema or hay fever.

How can I do to treat my toddler’s hay fever?

When it comes to hay fever, the 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 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 hat
  • Smear a tiny bit of Vaseline or something similar 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
  • 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

If your toddler’s eyes are affected, soothe them with a cool, damp flannel. Keeping their eyes shut helps, as blinking may irritate them. If just one eye is affected, keep it closed by placing a hankie against it behind a pair of glasses.

Pollen can attach to clothes and bedding when it is dried outside, so avoid hanging your washing out if the pollen forecast is high.

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 help the body to tackle hay fever symptoms.

Are there any hay fever medicines toddlers can take?

Drug treatments vary and partly depend on the symptoms. The treatments are similar for adults and children (though pregnant women need get medical advice from a pharmacist or a doctor). While many treatments are available without a prescription, always check with your doctor or pharmacist that it’s suitable for your child’s age, before giving your toddler any medicine.

Antihistamines are the best treatment for multiple symptoms in your toddler, especially as toddlers often hate eye drops and nose sprays.
Dr Lowri Kew

Sore eyes can be treated with lubricating eye drops or washes. Anti-allergy eye drops, such as sodium cromoglycate, may also help.

If your toddler is short of breath or is wheezing, an asthma inhaler (prescribed by your GP) is useful.

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, this should be used about 4 weeks before you anticipate symptoms.

Antihistamines treat all symptoms and can be taken from 1 year: ask your pharmacist for one that’s appropriate.

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About our expert Dr Lowri Kew

Dr 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. 

About our expert Dr Philippa Kaye

Dr Philippa Kaye works as a GP in both NHS and private practice. She attended Downing College, Cambridge, then took medical studies at Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’s medical schools in London, training in paediatrics, gynaecology, care of the elderly, acute medicine, psychiatry and general practice. Dr Philippa has also written a number of books, including ones on child health, diabetes in childhood and adolescence. She is a mum of 3.

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