Useful information on hay fever, with advice on common symptoms and remedies and treatments that are suitable for infants.
What is it?
Hay fever (or 'allergic rhinitis' to use its 'proper' name) is an allergic reaction to pollen, the tiny particles that plants and flowers release into the air in order to reproduce. However, it is not the brightly coloured or scented flowers that tend to be the culprits as they cross pollinate by attracting insects to assist. Instead it is the pollen produced by plainer trees and grasses that tend to be the problem for most people. in fact 95% of hay fever sufferers are sensitive to the grass pollen released over the summer months.
Hay fever sufferers typically experience cold like symptoms over the pollen season which runs from spring through to autumn (peaking in June and July). Common symptoms include a blocked or runny nose and itchy, runny eyes often accompanied by frequent sneezing or coughing. In extreme cases headaches, sleep disruption and wheezing can also occur. Those sensitive to pollen experience an immune reaction when they are exposed to high levels. The pollen stimulates the production of 'histamines' which are actually responsible for producing typical hay fever symptoms (hence anti-histamines).
Who gets it?
Hay fever is a widely experienced condition with an increasing number of sufferers each year. However, it tends to run in families, especially those who also suffer from asthma and eczema. Different people are sensitive to different types of pollen - those who experience hay fever symptoms early on in the year are most likely to be sensitive to the pollen produced by trees, whereas those who suffer in the summer months are likely to be sensitive to grass pollens. In autumn the sensitivity is likely to be related to the pollen produced by fungus and weeds.
The prevalence of hay fever in the under 2's is quite low, possibly because infants of a young age have not had enough exposure to pollen to have developed an immune response to it. However, that is not to say that hay fever does not occur in younger infants. If your baby has a constant blocked or clear runny nose with itchy, teary eyes or is displaying general signs of discomfort for more than a few days during the summer months then it may be the case that they are suffering from hay fever.
Although there are a wide range of anti-histamines and decongestants available over the counter, the vast majority are not suitable for infant consumption so you should not give them to your baby unless advised to do so by a pharmacist. There are some specialist infant hay fever remedies available if your baby is displaying symptoms. However if you are concerned it is always best to consult your doctor who will be able to advise you as to the best course of action.
Incidentally, if you are a hay fever sufferer yourself and are still breastfeeding you should consult your pharmacist or doctor before taking any relief remedies as some are not recommended for use whilst breastfeeding.
If your little one suffers from hay fever there are some steps you can take to help reduce irritation for them.
- Keep an eye on the pollen count - this is usually displayed on weather forecasts during summer months and will give you a good idea of how much pollen is in the air.
- On days when the pollen count is high it can be best to keep your baby indoors as much as possible.
- Pollen levels tend to be at their highest first thing in the morning and during the early evening so try and minimise outdoor activities at these times on high pollen days.
- On high pollen days try and avoid airing your baby's clothes and bed sheets outside as they may capture pollen in the fibres and provide a later irritant.
- Keep car windows closed when travelling and use internal air conditioning systems instead.
- When your pets come in from being outdoors you should wipe them down with a damp towel to remove residue pollen.
- Likewise, wash your baby's hands and face after being outdoors.
- Some find that applying Vaseline around the edges of the nostrils helps to reduce sensitivity.
- Finding a pair of wrap around sunglasses for your baby to wear when out and about should help to shield their eyes from pollen.