It’s May! Hooray! As we emerge from what might seem to some like the longest winter ever, lots of us welcome May as the month when the days get noticeably longer, the temperature starts to rise appreciably and the flowers and trees spring back into glorious life.

And therein lies the problem for many! The very feature of nature that keeps the world renewing and regenerating itself, is for some, the start of a miserable period of debilitating symptoms that sees them shut themselves up behind closed doors as allergy season hits!

May is Allergy Awareness Month in the US, and Allergy Awareness Week in the UK is the last week of April. Although anyone who suffers from seasonal allergies will tell you that they don’t need a calendar to remind them when their allergy season starts, as they can feel it all around them. With one in four people in the UK affected, what do we need to know as early years practitioners, and is there anything we can do to help?

What are allergies?

According to Allergy UK, an allergy is:

“the response of the body’s immune system to normally harmless substances, such as pollens, foods, and house dust mite.”

In most people, these substances, called ‘allergens’ pose no problem at all. However, in people whose immune systems identify them as a potential ‘threat’, the presence of these allergens triggers an immune response which can range from relatively minor localised itching or sneezing to a life-threatening, full-body response such as anaphylaxis.

Of course, it is not just in May when people suffer from allergies although May can trigger a high incidence of hay fever due to higher pollen counts in this month. There are other allergies that we need to be aware of too, including asthma, food and pet allergies that people suffer from all year round.

What causes allergies?

Since everyone is different, there is no one ‘thing’ that causes allergies in everyone because it is down to the response of the individual person’s immune system as to whether the substance is identified as a potential threat. However, there are some common allergens which have been shown to cause an allergic reaction in large numbers of people. The most common allergens are:

  • Pollen from trees and grasses
  • Proteins secreted from house dust mites
  • Foods such as peanuts, some grains, tree nuts, eggs and milk amongst others
  • Pet hairs from dogs and cats, horses or other furry animals
  • Mould
  • Insect stings such as wasp and bee stings
  • Some medicines

Who is affected?

The European Academy for Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI) reports that allergy is the most common chronic disease in Europe and that up to 20% of patients with allergies struggle daily with the fear of a possible asthma attack, anaphylactic shock, or even death from an allergic reaction (EAACI, 2016). In the UK, some reports suggest a staggering 44% of British adults now suffer from at least one allergy with the number of sufferers rising each year. Of those affected, almost half (48%) have more than one allergy – that is around 10 million people.

Symptoms of an allergic reaction

Symptoms can vary between individuals but can include:

  • A runny nose or sneezing
  • Pain or tenderness around your cheeks, eyes or forehead
  • Coughing, wheezing or breathlessness
  • Itchy skin or a raised rash (hives)
  • Diarrhoea
  • Feeling or being sick
  • Swollen eyes, lips, mouth or throat

Allergies in children

The Allergy UK website reports that 40% of UK children have been diagnosed with an allergy, with food allergy, eczema, asthma, and hay fever being the most common. As well as the symptoms listed above, children can suffer with additional problems caused by allergies which can affect not only their health, but their well-being, education and social interactions as well. Early years practitioners need to understand these additional needs which may not be as obvious as someone sneezing or itching, but include:

  • Anxiety around a potential allergic reaction
  • Fear of using adrenaline auto-injectors/needles
  • Negative relationships with food including food aversions and refusal
  • Sleep deprivation due to allergy symptoms, affecting mood and concentration
  • Visible symptoms such as eczema and hives causing low self-esteem
  • Isolation around social events such as birthday parties and eating out at restaurants
  • The potential for bullying due to allergies
  • Concerns from parents about protecting their children against allergen triggers and serious allergic reactions

Treatments for allergies

Depending on the severity and type of allergy, there are a number of different treatments including:

  • Avoidance of the allergen – e.g. staying away from animals, rigorous cleaning routines
  • Over-the-counter medicines for mild allergic reactions such as antihistamines and skin creams
  • GP-prescribed medicines such as steroid tablets and steroid creams
  • Emergency medicines called adrenaline auto-injectors, such as an EpiPen, for severe allergic reactions
  • Desensitisation (immunotherapy) for severe allergic reactions – this involves carefully exposing a person to the allergen over time try to reduce the severity of the reaction and should only be done by a medical professional

Allergy management in your setting

All practitioners should have up-to-date First-Aid training and you should ensure that you have robust protocols and policies for First-Aid and the administration of medications. Check also that you:

  • Keep accurate and up-to-date records of all children and staff who suffer from allergies including emergency contact numbers, GP names and addresses
  • Keep all emergency medicines in a locked place with the name and photograph of the child clearly visible.
  • Medications should be in the original box with clear instructions on how to give the medication easily visible
  • Have well-trained staff who are available all day, every day to deliver First-Aid and medications
  • Reduce the chance of sufferers coming into contact with allergens such as seating hay fever sufferers away from open windows and be aware of the daily pollen count
  • Ensure all staff are aware of children with food allergies and have dedicated place settings or place mats for these children to minimise the risk of errors


  • Get a skin rash that may include itchy, red, swollen, blistered or peeling skin
  • Start wheezing
  • Get tightness in the chest or throat
  • Have trouble breathing or talking
  • Has swelling around the mouth, face, lips, tongue or throat

These symptoms could mean the person is having a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) and may need immediate treatment in hospital.

We have created some allergy placemat templates for you - download them here!

Allergy UK have a Helpline on 01322 619898 and can give advice on the nearest local NHS allergy clinic or consultant.

References and more information




European Academy for Allergy and Clinical Immunology (EAACI) 

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