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How can you tell if your child has hay fever?

The symptoms of hay fever in children are the same as in adults. On days with a high pollen count, try keep children with hay fever indoors.

Spring has arrived, and if your child is one of every three children who suffer from hay fever, you’ve probably noticed some of the following symptoms: sneezing; an itchy, runny, or stuffy nose; and red, itchy, watery eyes.

Children, unfortunately, are not immune to hay fever, otherwise known as allergic rhinitis, and it appears that the number of children suffering from hay fever in South Africa is increasing.

Pollens are responsible for seasonal symptoms (spring and summer), whereas house dust mites are responsible for year-round symptoms.

Children allergic to seasonal and perennial allergens may experience a significant increase in symptoms during the spring.

Hay fever can cause fatigue, irritability, and poor concentration in children, affecting their learning and social behaviour. The good news is that it is usually treatable.

What causes hay fever in children?

When children are exposed to pollens or house dust mites, hay fever can develop.

Small particles become trapped in the hairs and mucus that line their nasal cavity, or they can enter through the conjunctiva, the tissue that covers their eye.

The body recognises these invaders as dangerous and launches an attack with immunoglobulin E, or IgE antibodies.

When allergens bind to IgE antibodies on immune cells (such as mast cells), the cells rapidly release chemical mediators such as histamines and leukotrienes. Sneezing, itchy and/or runny nose, and itchy, watery eyes result from this.

The body then recruits additional immune cells, such as T cells, resulting in increased inflammation and worsening symptoms.

What to do if your child has hay fever

While hay fever symptoms in children may appear to be the common cold at first, the persistence of symptoms after a few weeks usually indicates hay fever.

Children with hay fever rarely have fevers (which are more common with infections), but they may be more susceptible to recurrent colds.

If you are unsure, take your child to a doctor for a diagnosis. If necessary, they can use skin prick or blood tests to detect the presence of relevant IgE antibodies to the suspected allergens.

Your doctor will then review the three main treatment options with you and your child: avoiding the allergen, taking oral and topical medications, and having allergen immunotherapy.

Keeping the allergen at bay

Once you’ve identified the allergen, you can help limit your child’s exposure to the source of their hay fever.

Allergen reduction strategies for children with seasonal allergic rhinitis could include staying indoors on windy days with high pollen counts, avoiding allergen-containing activities, and showering immediately after outdoor activities.

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