09 February 2020

5 ways to tackle hay fever during the new school year

School has started, and your child is suddenly sneezing, coughing and itching. Where do you go from here?

The new school year can be an exciting challenge, but one thing that can add stress is when your child suddenly starts feeling unwell – and you don’t know where to start or what to do. Could it maybe be allergies?

School is a place where children are exposed to many allergens – pollen on the playground, chalk and dust in the classroom, mould lurking in older buildings; the list goes on.

And while hay fever doesn’t sound serious, symptoms can severely affect your child’s concentration in class.

Health24 reported in 2017 that, according to a peer-reviewed study, only 38% of teachers were able to score more than 50% on a basic test on asthma. Although this study was limited to KwaZulu-Natal, it shows that a lack of knowledge about asthma and allergies is a big concern.

As a parent, you can’t be around your child all the time and you certainly don’t always have control over what allergens or irritants they are exposed to. But you can help control the symptoms.

The typical symptoms of hay fever (allergic rhinitis) include:

  • A runny nose
  • Nasal congestion
  • Itchy eyes
  • Itchy nose
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Post-nasal drip
  • General fatigue and feeling unwell

Here are some tips on where to start if you suspect your child has an allergy:

1. Keep track of symptoms

Ask your child to try and be very precise when it comes to describing symptoms. Let them keep a diary and note when they start coughing/sneezing – is it during school sport or in a certain classroom? This could point you in the right direction when you need to identify possible allergens or irritants.  

2. Know the difference between allergic rhinitis and non-allergic rhinitis

It’s easy to classify a bunch of symptoms such as sneezing, coughing, itchy eyes and a runny nose as “hay fever”, but it’s important to know that there is a difference between an allergic reaction and an irritation. Allergic rhinitis (hay fever) occurs when the body’s immune system responds to certain allergens such as pollen, dust, cleaning agents or some cosmetic products.

Non-allergic rhinitis, on the other hand, is inflammation of the nasal passages that can be caused by the common cold or by triggers that cause an irritation in the immediate location, but doesn’t trigger a response from the immune system, unlike an allergy.

3. Ask the medical professionals

It may be hard to diagnose an allergy, but your doctor may help to rule out all possible underlying conditions. He or she may also be able to prescribe a non-drowsy anti-histamine that will not interfere with concentration.

4. Keep your eye on the weekly pollen report

Know when the pollen in your child’s area is high by reading The Real Pollen Update on Health24. This can help you minimise your child’s pollen exposure by keeping doors and windows shut and limiting outdoor playtime and activities during these times.

5. Take precautions

Even though the pollen count might be high in the area, you can’t always keep your child away from sport practice. Limit the pollen exposure by encouraging your child to apply a tiny amount of Vaseline or a similar lubricant on the nostrils to help “trap” the pollen. Also ensure that your child immediately showers and changes clothes when coming home from school or extramural activities. Children should also be taught to wash their hands regularly to get rid of pollen, dander or dust, and to stop rubbing their eyes to avoid transferring allergens to the eyes.

Image credit: iStock


Ask the Expert

Allergy expert

Dr Morris is the Principal Allergist at the Cape Town and Johannesburg Allergy Clinics with postgraduate diplomas in Allergology, Dermatology, Paediatrics and Family Medicine dealing with both adult and childhood allergies.

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