Number of children seeking allergy treatment soars: How to spot one in your child

Allergy in child at doctor. (Getty Images)
Think your child might suffer from an allergy? They're not alone. (Getty Images) (Getty Images)

The number of children seeking treatment for an allergy has risen seven-fold in 15 years, new research finds.

And with only four times as many clinics as there was in 2006, they're struggling to keep up with demand.

A whopping 40% of children have been diagnosed with an allergy in the UK, with the four most common being a food allergy, eczema, asthma and hay fever.

Most departments for outpatients (not admitted overnight to hospital) are fairly small, and have varying resources to offer services like allergen immunotherapy, which might involve giving your child a small amount of the substance they are allergic to everyday, like peanuts.

Read more: 'Cake crumbs almost killed my son’: Mum lives in constant fear for son with allergies

Young boy with a packed lunch takes out his anaphylaxis auto injector. (Getty Images)
It's important to consult a doctor if you think your child has an allergy so they can receive the correct treatment to keep them safe. (Getty Images) (CarrieCaptured via Getty Images)

One theory behind the rising allergy and asthma diagnosis rates is 'hygiene hypothesis'. This means that living conditions might be too clean, as germs can be helpful in training the immune system to tell the difference between harmless and harmful irritants.

Other factors like the increasing use of antibiotics, obesity, Vitamin D deficiency due to too much time indoors and even Caesarean births have been linked to the rise in conditions.

Allergies affect more than one-in-three British young people, which costs the NHS more than £1 billion a year, according to corresponding author of the study Dr Michael Perkin, of the University of London.

Boy with asthma. (Getty Images)
Does your child have a cough, a tight chest, breathlessness or a wheeze? They might have asthma. (Getty Images) (Jose Luis Pelaez via Getty Images)

While similar research by the British Society of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (BSACI) has been done before in 2006, it is neither 100% complete or up to date.

"We have therefore undertaken the first comprehensive survey of every UK hospital to establish which are providing a paediatric [children] allergy service and what that service consists of," says Dr Perkin.

The intention of the survey is also to act as a sort of signpost, or place to store useful information, "so that health professionals and patients and their families can identify the location of services appropriate to their needs".

"Furthermore, by identifying areas where inconsistencies exist, the information may be used to help drive publication of national standards for paediatric allergy services, similar to those in adult allergy services," adds Dr Perkin.

He explains that the results will allow individual services to identify themselves against other paediatric allergy services and may help with decisions about the way services run and any developments needed.

Read more: How to spot if a cough is coronavirus or hay fever

Based on the analysed data, the researchers have produced an interactive online map showing the location of and services provided by the 154 hospitals recorded as seeing children needing allergy treatment.

"Quality standards already exist for other paediatric subspecialties, such as gastroenterology (includes the stomach, intestines and liver), and the production of similar standards and accreditation for paediatric allergy will ensure that children with allergic diseases receive high-quality and consistent care, regardless of their geographical location."

So, the research will hopefully help families and their children access the standard of care they need, regardless of where they live.

To know when your child might need treatment, it can also be useful to be aware of the signs of allergy.

Child with hay fever. (Getty Images)
Hay fever symptoms will likely last much longer than a cold. (Getty Images) (ProfessionalStudioImages via Getty Images)

How to tell if your child has an allergy

Food allergy

Food allergies are more common in children who come from families where other members suffer from an allergy, while babies who suffer from eczema are at a higher risk of having food allergies.

Symptoms of an immediate food allergy in children, as per Allergy UK, include:

  • A flushed face, hives, a red and itchy rash around the mouth, tongue or eyes (which can spread across the body)

  • Mild swelling (particularly of the lips, eyes and face)

  • A runny or blocked nose, sneezing and watering eyes

  • Nausea and vomiting, tummy cramps and diarrhoea

  • A scratchy or itchy mouth and throat

More severe symptoms of anaphylaxis (a severe reaction to a trigger, like an allergy) include wheezing or chest tightness, swelling of the tongue and throat (restricting the airways), a sudden drop in blood pressure leading to shock and dizziness, confusion, collapse, loss of consciousness and sometimes coma.

This requires urgent medical attention.

Read more: Severe allergic reactions: What to do if your child goes into anaphylactic shock


Eczema in babies often appears between three-six months, though can also develop just after birth, usually affecting the face, neck, body, arms and legs. As the child grows older, it is more likely to be seen in creases around the neck, knees, wrists, elbows and ankles, but can be more widespread.

The main symptoms, also advised by the charity, are:

  • Intense itch

  • Dry skin

  • Rash

  • Redness

  • Inflammation


A combination of asthma symptoms makes the condition more likely. Try to keep track if your child experiences any of these:

  • Cough (won't go away or keeps coming back/night-time or early morning/after exercise, when excited)

  • Wheeze (high-pitched whistling sound)

  • Tight chest (they might describe it as a 'tummy ache')

  • Breathlessness (see how fast they are breathing and listen to how their breathing sounds)

Watch: The difference between coronavirus and hay fever symptoms

Hay fever

Hay fever symptoms can include:

  • sneezing and coughing

  • a runny or blocked nose

  • itchy, red or watery eyes

  • itchy throat, mouth, nose and ears

  • loss of smell

  • pain around your temples and forehead

  • headache

  • earache

  • feeling tired

You also might notice your child's asthma gets worse. Hay fever is more likely to last for weeks or months, rather than one to two weeks, like a cold.

See a GP if you think your child might have an allergy, to get the best advice, before they experience any more severe symptoms.

You can find also find the interactive map produced by the study by Googling Paediatric Allergy Services Map.

Additional reporting SWNS.