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Hay fever (allergic rhinitis) fact sheet

Hay fever (allergic rhinitis)

What is hay fever?

Hay fever (allergic rhinitis) is a chronic condition usually caused by an allergic reaction to dust, animal hair, mould or pollens from trees, grasses and weeds. The condition can affect your child’s eyes, sinuses, throat and ears. Hay fever symptoms can be triggered by seasonal changes (e.g., spring) or occur throughout the year.

Signs and symptoms

Children with hay fever may experience mild to severe symptoms including:

  • A runny and itchy nose
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • A blocked nose
  • Snoring

Hay fever can significantly impact your child’s quality of life. Obstructed breathing and disrupted sleep can lead to impaired performance of daily activities, decreased classroom productivity and an overall reduction in wellbeing. If hay fever is not managed well, it can also be a risk factor for the development of asthma, sinusitis, or middle ear infections.

How is the condition diagnosed?

Diagnosis is generally based on having the above symptoms. Triggers for some children with hay fever are obvious, e.g., family pets and seasonal change. Allergy testing can be used to identify what is contributing to your child’s hay fever. Food is not a trigger for hay fever and will generally not be part of the allergy testing.

What are the best hay fever treatments?

Avoiding allergens

  • If specific environmental triggers or allergens are identified, minimising exposure to these can help improve your child’s symptoms (see our fact sheet on reducing allergens in the home).

Medical management

  • Saline nasal spray is a salt water spray that is available over the counter. Apply one spray to each of your child’s nostrils and then get them to blow their nose to clear mucous. This should be done before using steroid nasal sprays to ensure a clear nose and better contact between the medicated spray and their nasal lining.
  • Intranasal corticosteroid and/or antihistamine nasal sprays are medicated steroids – most require a prescription. Intranasal corticosteroids are well tolerated by children and can be used long-term without problems. Most side-effects are due to local irritation and can be reduced if used with appropriate technique. The newer steroids, such as Nasonex, have been proven to have no systemic side-effects and not cause growth suppression in children when taken in recommended doses.
  • Oral antihistamines (such as cetirizine or loratadine) should be taken when symptoms are severe, or prior to going into a situation which causes symptoms to worsen.

It’s important to seek advice from your pharmacist or doctor on the best treatments as extended use of some medicines may cause more problems for your child.

Desensitisation (also known as allergen immunotherapy) may be used in older children aged over five who experience severe hay fever. This treatment can be taken for up to five years and involves exposing your child to regular and repeated dose of allergens over time.

This will often reduce the severity of your child’s symptoms and the need for medication. The effects on symptom reduction can then last for many years after completion. It is not suitable for all people, not publicly funded and should be supervised by an experienced clinician.

Further information

Contact us

If it’s not an emergency but you have any concerns, contact 13 Health (13 43 2584). Qualified staff will give you advice on who to talk to and how quickly you should do it. You can phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

In an emergency, always contact 000 for immediate assistance.

Resource No: FS279. Developed by the Immunology and Allergy Department, Queensland Children’s Hospital. Updated: January 2018. All information contained in this sheet has been supplied by qualified professionals as a guideline for care only. Seek medical advice, as appropriate, for concerns regarding your child’s health.

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