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 things like insect debris, dust mites, dust mite droppings and dead skin
- animal dander which is particles of dead skin, hair or feathers
- mould spores
- cigarette smoke.
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
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.
Diagnosing airborne allergies
Sometimes the cause of allergy symptoms such as a pet is obvious. Sometimes, 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.
You doctor may suggest that your child has allergy tests (such as skin prick or blood tests) to identify the cause.
Treatment and reducing symptoms
While 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 at least minimise, your child’s contact with it.
Some ways include:
- during the pollen season, keeping your child indoors in the mornings and avoiding parks (and any grassy areas) where possible
- removing any plants in your home and yard your child may be sensitive to
- 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
- keeping the humidity in the house down to reduce mould; dehumidifiers can help.
Your doctor may also suggest medicines to help relieve your child’s symptoms. These include:
- non-sedating antihistamines
- 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.