Allergic rhinitis and hayfever

Always see a doctor if you're concerned about any aspects of your health or wellbeing while pregnant.
Always see a doctor if you're concerned about any aspects of your health or wellbeing while pregnant. 

What is it?

Allergic rhinitis and hayfever are allergic reactions affecting the nose. They occur when a child breathes in something that they are allergic to (such as pollen, for example) causing their nasal passages to swell and their body to produce histamine in an effort to get rid of the allergens. Generally “hayfever” is used to describe a seasonal reaction to a trigger (such as pollens, in springtime) and “allergic rhinitis” is used to describe a year-round reaction (such as allergy to animal fur, or dust). Essentially though the symptoms are identical.  

What are the causes?

There can be innumerable causes of allergic rhinitis/hayfever. The more common ones are:

  • Pollen
  • Grass seeds
  • Some types of weeds
  • Mould spores
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Animal hair or fur
  • House dust mites

What are the symptoms?

When your child’s body produces more histamine, this creates uncomfortable symptoms including:

  • Sneezing
  • A runny or blocked nose
  • Red and watery eyes
  • Itchy ears, nose and palate
  • Headaches

The symptoms can be similar to a head cold, but without an accompanying temperature. Children may also feel tired and lethargic as the symptoms can make it difficult for them to get a sound sleep.

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Currently around 10% of children and 20% of adolescents have allergic rhinitis/hayfever. In some children, the allergens that trigger allergic rhinitis/hayfever can also trigger asthma.

What are the treatments?

It is important to take your child to their doctor for an assessment before starting any treatments for allergic rhinitis/hayfever. Treatment may involve a combination of medication and avoidance. Some medications used include:

  • An antihistamine, either via a liquid or nasal spray. Depending on the severity of the condition this may be used simply when the symptoms are present, or alternatively may be used regularly as a preventative treatment.
  • A corticosteroid nasal spray may be prescribed for regular use, to help reduce nasal passage swelling.
  • Decongestant nasal sprays and eyedrops can be used for occasional short-term relief.
  • In severe cases the child’s doctor may suggest referral to a specialist for skin testing, to pinpoint the specific triggers.
  • Avoidance of known triggers is always suggested, but not always possible. You can certainly reduce exposure though. With regards to pollens, it is useful to check the pollen forecast in your area (try www.weatherzone.com.au). Whenever possible, avoid triggers such as cigarette smoke, animal fur and dust mites.

Other resources

Parenting and child health – South Australian government: www.cyh.com

Better Health Channel: www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au

The Asthma Foundation: www.asthma.org.au