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Airborne allergies

3-minute read

Many people are allergic to things like dust, pollen, cigarette smoke and pet dander (dead skin and fur). They can trigger hay fever (allergic rhinitis) symptoms, which can disturb your child’s sleep and affect their behaviour. Allergies can also be responsible for eczema and asthma. You can take action to reduce the severity of your child’s symptoms.

What are the common airborne allergens?

Substances that cause allergy symptoms are called allergens. Airborne allergens are those carried by air. They include:

  • pollen, typically from grasses, flowers and trees
  • house dust, which includes insect debris, dust mites, dust mite droppings and dead skin
  • animal dander, which is particles of dead skin, hair or feathers
  • mould spores (tiny particles carried in the air)
  • cigarette smoke

What are the symptoms of airborne allergies?

When breathed in, airborne allergens can trigger symptoms in people who are allergic to them. Symptoms include:

  • frequent bouts of sneezing
  • a runny nose
  • blocked nose (one or both nostrils)
  • itchy ears, nose, throat and roof of the mouth
  • red, itchy, swollen or watery eyes
  • headaches

If hay fever is not treated properly, it can make asthma harder to control and can lead to sinus infections, affect children’s concentration and school work, lead to bad breath or a husky voice, and eye infections.

Other substances that are irritating – such as perfumes and cold air — can make allergy symptoms worse.

People who have hay fever all year round are often allergic to dust mites, animal fur and/or mould spores. If they have allergy symptoms only during spring, it is usually caused by pollen.

Check your symptoms with healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

How are airborne allergies diagnosed?

Sometimes the cause of allergy symptoms such as a pet is obvious. Other times, your child’s doctor may need to identify what’s causing the allergy.

The doctor will usually talk to you and/or your child and ask questions about the timing of symptoms, the types of plants that grow in the area and whether your child feels any better when away from home.

If your child has severe allergic rhinitis, they may need to be referred to a clinical immunology/allergy specialist for further assessment.

The specialist may suggest that your child has allergy tests (such as skin prick or blood tests) to identify the cause.

How are airborne allergies treated?

Although allergies and hay fever cannot be cured, there are some things you can do to reduce the symptoms and give your child some relief.

The best treatment is to identify the cause and then try to prevent or minimise your child’s contact with it.

During the pollen season, it can help to keep your child indoors in the mornings and avoid parks (and any grassy areas) where possible. Removing any plants in your home and yard that cause the allergy can also reduce symptoms

Other ways to reduce symptoms include:

  • keeping your home and car free of cigarette smoke
  • cleaning the house thoroughly and regularly to reduce house dust and dander
  • washing bedding, soft toys and soft furnishings regularly
  • keeping your pet outside or giving it away if the allergy is severe
  • removing sources of mould and dampness
  • lowering humidity in your house to reduce mould; dehumidifiers can help

Your doctor may also suggest medicines to help relieve your child’s symptoms. These include non-sedating antihistamines and nasal sprays (may be useful for older children).

Another option for severe allergic symptoms is specific allergen immunotherapy. It is a long-term treatment. Your doctor will be able to advise you whether this treatment is suitable for your child.

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Last reviewed: March 2021

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