Hay fever in children looks much the same as in adults, with symptoms like sneezing, runny nose, and watery eyes. Here’s what to look for and how to minimize discomfort.

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Hearing lots of “achoos” from your little one? Grown-ups aren’t the only ones who can have the sneezing, runny nose, and watery eyes of hay fever. Children can also have allergic reactions to pollen in the air, pet dander, and household dust. In fact, nearly 1 in 5 kids (18.9%) has a seasonal allergy.

It’s no fun watching your child go through the discomforts of allergies, but there are steps you can take to minimize their symptoms. And if your child’s allergies are seasonal, they’ll likely eventually resolve on their own as the weather changes.

Learn more about seasonal allergies.

Hay fever, sometimes called seasonal allergies or seasonal allergic rhinitis, is an inflammation of the membranes that line the sinuses. When this part of the body becomes inflamed due to an allergic reaction, it produces classic cold-like symptoms in children and adults.

In general, children’s hay fever symptoms follow the typical pattern seen in adults. If your child’s immune system is reacting to something in the air, they may experience symptoms such as:

The term “hay fever” is a bit of a misnomer. This condition doesn’t occur from hay and doesn’t give your child a fever. Instead, hay fever occurs when blooming plants like trees, flowers, grasses, and weeds release pollen into the air.

If your child is allergic to this pollen, their immune system responds by releasing histamine into their bloodstream. When their body releases histamine, it creates inflammation that results in unpleasant respiratory symptoms.

You may be able to identify hay fever in your child on your own.

If their symptoms are seasonal, waxing and waning with changes in the weather, this is a strong indicator. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, in the United States, spring allergies — the ones that are often most bothersome — begin in February and last until early summer. Consider whether this is the time your child experiences their symptoms.

Similarly, a child’s symptoms that seem to come and go depending on their location, such as when they’re in the presence of a family pet or in a dusty environment, can be another sign that they’re related to hay fever.

If you bring your child to their pediatrician for a diagnosis, their doctor may perform tests to rule out other causes of their symptoms, such as asthma.

They may also refer you to an allergist who can perform skin prick tests for an accurate picture of what your child is allergic to. These tests can often determine, for example, whether your child is allergic to grass, specific types of pollen, or flowers.

Most treatments for hay fever in kids are simple to do at home. Many over-the-counter antihistamine medications for seasonal allergies include products and dosages for children. Always be sure to follow appropriate dosing and clear any concerns with your child’s doctor before starting a new medication.

Nasal sprays, cold compresses on the face, and neti pots can also be useful tools for clearing nasal congestion in kids.

There are also plenty of options for reducing allergens in your home. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests:

  • washing linens weekly
  • replacing pillows every 2 to 3 years
  • keeping your child away from piles of dead leaves
  • using allergen-proof zip-up covers on mattresses and cushions

Why do some kids get hay fever while others don’t? Hay fever may be more common in kids with:

  • a close family member who has seasonal allergies
  • eczema
  • other allergies, such as food allergies
  • many allergens in their living environments

It’s possible for children to outgrow hay fever, but many kids will have the condition throughout their adult years as well. Though there’s currently no cure for seasonal allergies, continuing to manage symptoms with medication and home modifications can make this annual irritation more bearable.

Can babies get hay fever?

Hay fever can technically start at any age, but it’s rare for babies to experience it.

Can a child suddenly develop hay fever?

Yes. A child may develop hay fever at age, and symptoms can start quickly. Contact your child’s healthcare professional to be sure your child’s symptoms are allergies and not a respiratory infection. Respiratory Illnesses like the common cold and other infections may have a few similar symptoms but may need treatment. Symptoms that persist for a longer period of time – beyond 7 to 10 days – and that are primarily a runny nose and sneezing, may be hay fever.

How can you tell if your child’s symptoms are allergies or asthma?

Since seasonal allergies and asthma share many of the same symptoms — and since they often occur together — it can be difficult to tell which your child is dealing with.

Asthma is more likely to produce a persistent cough, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. If you’re concerned your child could have asthma, contact a healthcare professional who can make a diagnosis.

Blooming flowers and trees may be beautiful to look at, but they can make the spring months difficult for kids with hay fever. You can try managing your child’s seasonal allergy symptoms with at-home treatments like nasal sprays or children’s allergy medications — but talk with your doctor if these interventions aren’t helping.