Hay fever in children

A child reading book with mom

Ever wondered if your child has hay fever? Maybe you’ve noticed your little one sneezing a lot and you’re always having to wipe their runny nose. Or it could go the other way; they get blocked up and it’s a struggle to help them blow their nose.

Pollen allergy isn’t just for grown-ups. Kids get it too. Read on to find out how to spot hay fever in children and for tips on what to do next.

What causes hay fever in children?

You can blame it on pesky pollen. Your child’s immune system mistakes the harmless particles for dangerous intruders and fights back. Cells in their airways release histamine, which makes the lining of the nose swell up. The runny nose we talked about is part of the body’s defenses too; the extra mucus is meant to flush out the pollen. These hay fever symptoms are called allergic rhinitis.

Grasses, trees and weeds release pollen as part of their reproductive cycle. Typically the fine powdery dust is only in the air from early spring, through summer, into fall. Although precise pollen seasons depend on where you live.

That’s why hay fever or pollen allergy is also known as seasonal allergic rhinitis. It comes and goes. If your child has the same hay fever-like symptoms all year round, it could be a different allergy – maybe to house dust mites or a pet. That’s perennial allergic rhinitis.

Did you Know...?

  • Even young children can develop allergies. Food allergies can start as early as the first year of life, while hay fever usually appears later.
  • Hay fever is rare in children under two years.
  • Usually a child needs to be exposed to two pollen seasons before symptoms can strike.
  • In childhood, allergic rhinitis is slightly more common in boys than girls.
  • 5.2 million US children under 18 had hay fever in 2018.
  • Allergies tend to run in families. Ordinarily a child has around a 12% chance of developing an allergy; that goes up to 30-50% if one parent is affected; if both parents have allergies, the risk is 60-80%.

What does hay fever in children look like?

Hay fever symptoms in children include:

  • Stuffy nose. Your child might snore. Eating with their mouth closed could be a challenge if they can’t breathe through their nose.
  • Runny nose. Children do get snotty noses but it may happen to your child more often and come on suddenly.
  • Sneezing. Your baby’s first sneeze may seem cute; sneezing constantly is one of several hay fever symptoms in toddlers
  • Sore eyes. Your child’s eyes may be red, itchy, swollen or weepy.
  • Tiredness. Hay fever may stop your child getting a good night’s sleep. They get overtired and this can lead to problems concentrating at school.

Hay fever in children vs a cold

Young children can get several respiratory infections a year. And since hay fever in children looks a lot like a common cold it can be tricky to tell exactly what’s going on. But some symptoms are distinctive.

How fast symptoms appear
Colds Hay fever

A cold often develops over a couple of days.

Hay fever symptoms can appear quite suddenly.

Raised temperature or fever
Colds Hay fever

A cold is caused by an infection with a virus and is sometimes accompanied by a high temperature for a few days.

Hay fever is very unlikely to cause a rise in your temperature.

Itchy nose or eyes
Colds Hay fever



Color and texture of mucus
Colds Hay fever

Can become yellowish or greenish and quite thick.

Usually clear and watery.

How long the symptoms last
Colds Hay fever

Usually about 1 week.

As long as the child is exposed to their triggers. Hay fever symptoms can last many weeks during the pollen season.

If you notice hay fever symptoms in your child, book an appointment with your health care provider. An early diagnosis is the first step in managing their allergies.

Hay fever in children: 7 ways parents can help

Pollen triggers hay fever so try to limit your child’s exposure to it. Here are some ideas for you to try:

  • Use a pollen calendar and pollen forecast Plan outings for when pollen levels are lower. Our app can give you accurate forecasts personalized to your child's allergies.
  • Get your child to wear a hat and sunglasses. This helps shield their eyes from pollen.
  • Keep windows and doors closed. If you need to open them, do it when pollen levels are low. Installing air conditioning at home or special air purifiers can help too.
  • Wash your child's hair. This gets rid of pollen so do it often, especially before bed.
  • Keep bedrooms pollen-free. Get your child to take off the clothes they were wearing during the day outside their bedroom.
  • Don't dry laundry outside. Use a tumble dryer or hang your washing up indoors.
  • Go on holiday! Head for the seaside or the mountains during the worst periods, if you can; pollen levels are generally lower there.

Medicines for hay fever in children: Early years

Even once they have a diagnosis, treating hay fever symptoms in children can be tricky, especially if they’re very young. Decongestants, nasal antihistamines and many other medicines for adults may not be suitable for young children.

Want to know about
dust mite allergy?

Stuffed animals on a child’s bed

But there are some antihistamines and corticosteroid nasal sprays that children can use, depending on their age. You may be able to buy them over the counter at the pharmacy, but always ask your health care provider’s advice first before giving your child allergy medication.

Medicines for hay fever in children: Next steps

Older children who find standard hay fever medicines aren’t working, might be able to try specialist treatments. Allergy immunotherapy tackles the underlying cause of hay fever through controlled, repeated doses of the substance your child is reacting to. It helps the body build up tolerance. Your health care provider can tell you more about allergy immunotherapy.

Early diagnosis of hay fever in children

Your health care provider is your child’s best friend. Early diagnosis of hay fever means your child will get the best treatment early. They should feel better and sleep better, and be able to enjoy just being a kid.

Your health care provider will also help your child go on managing allergies as they get older. It can change and new triggers and symptoms develop. You can also have several allergies at once. So regular check-ups are important.

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