Is Immunotherapy safe for children’s hay fever symptoms?

Dr Helen Cox, paediatric allergist at Chiswick Medical Centre, discusses the debilitating impact hay fever can have on children, and how immunotherapy is being used to minimise symptoms.

For many children hay fever settles in as spring arrives. Persistent runny noses, itchy eyes and the feeling of a constant cold are just some of the symptoms children can experience for weeks or even months at a time. On top of this, hay fever is also known to cause conditions such as asthma and eczema to appear.

Taking a combination of conventional treatments such as antihistamines, nasal sprays, drops and steroids will help manage hay fever and any consequent symptoms. However, for some children, its impact can be debilitating. Hay fever, and certain antihistamines which attempt to treat it, can cause problems with sleeping, daytime concentration and overall cognitive function. It is therefore unsurprising a recent study conducted on the impact of hay fever on children’s education revealed children who suffer from hay fever symptoms were 40 per cent more likely to drop a grade between their practice and final GCSE exams. This increased to a likelihood of 70 per cent if they were taking sedating antihistamines at the time of the summer exams.

What can I give my child for hay fever?

If you and your child have exhausted conventional treatment options and feel they are not having an impact, specialist paediatric allergists at Chiswick Medical Centre are offering an alternative, revolutionary treatment method. Immunotherapy (sometimes referred to as desensitisation) involves giving doses of the grass or tree pollen your child is allergic to over a period of three years. It helps to "reset" the immune system, so it no longer thinks the allergen your child is allergic to is a threat.

Previously, immunotherapy involved having a series of monthly injections in hospital. However, recent developments have meant children can receive immunotherapy, via drops or tablets held under the tongue for two minutes. They are to be given every day for six months over a period of three years. While an initial consultation and the first dose of treatment must be administered at a medical centre by a specialist, the rest of the treatment can be carried out safely at home. This treatment is available for children aged six and older. Younger children can struggle with holding drops or a tablet under their tongue.

Does Immunotherapy work for hay fever?

How effective is immunotherapy in improving a child’s pollen allergy? The truth is, very. In several studies, children demonstrated a 20 - 30 per cent reduction in symptoms and a 30 - 50 per cent reduction in medication compared to placebo, with improvement being noticed during the first year of treatment. In this respect it is far more effective than antihistamines.

Additionally, not only does taking a tablet a day significantly reduce hay fever symptoms, but studies have also shown that for children with established hay fever, it can prevent the progression of asthma. For many children the positive effects felt from immunotherapy treatment, including the consequent impact on their asthma, is still felt between 10 and 15 years after stopping treatment.

If your child is experiencing persistent hay fever symptoms and you are considering alternative treatment, seeing an allergy specialist can be hugely beneficial, not only to improve their current hay fever symptoms but to discuss other treatment options, including immunotherapy. It is helpful to book an appointment in hay fever season (April-July) so an assessment can be carried out when their symptoms are most prominent.


To get in touch with a paediatric allergist at Chiswick Medical Centre, call 020 8712 1806.