In Finland, birch is the most common cause of pollen allergy. 80 - 90% of those allergic to birch also experience symptoms from alder and hazel pollen. Photo: Satu Karmavalo, STUDIO KOO photography, Allergy, Skin and Asthma Federation

Health & wellbeing

In Finland, addressing pollen allergies in children is seen as a crucial step toward reducing the incidence of asthma and subsequently healthcare costs, emphasized by the Allergy, Skin, and Asthma Federation during Allergy Week, March 18–24. Poorly managed pollen allergies significantly increase the likelihood of developing asthma, especially in children, adolescents, and young adults. Effective treatment of pollen allergies in healthcare could lead to a decrease in asthma cases and, consequently, a reduction in societal healthcare expenditures.

"Pollen allergies can be treated effectively at relatively low costs compared to asthma. If a child develops asthma, they may require medication and healthcare services for their entire life," explains Katariina Ijäs, an allergy, skin, and asthma expert. In 2018, the direct healthcare costs for asthma and asthma symptoms in Finland were 205 million euros, encompassing inpatient care, outpatient visits, travel, medication, and rehabilitation.

The recommendation is that a doctor should decide on the allergy medication for children under school age. Older children often rely on self-medication, posing a challenge as parents may not know the most effective treatment for their child's pollen allergy.

Tackling Pollen Allergy with Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy could benefit many with pollen allergies, as the treatment reduces allergic symptoms by 80–90%, with some becoming completely symptom-free and the majority experiencing significant relief. However, the number of individuals receiving immunotherapy in Finland is low, with only about 10,000 allergy sufferers undergoing treatment in 2021.

"It's important for children suffering from pollen allergies to have easier access to immunotherapy assessment. Many parents are unaware of this option, and it's not readily suggested in public healthcare," says Ijäs.

Immunotherapy is a causative treatment for allergies, aiming to acclimatize and desensitize the body to the allergen. This treatment is available in both public and private healthcare settings and comes in two forms: injection and sublingual tablet therapies. Injection therapy is available for over 5-year-olds for birch pollen and timothy grass pollen allergies, while tablet therapy is offered for adults and children over 5 years old for these conditions.

Approximately 20% of the Finnish population suffers from pollen allergies, experiencing symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing, nasal itching and congestion, cough, and asthma symptoms, along with red, itchy, burning, and watering eyes.

Allergy Week, an annual campaign by the Allergy, Skin, and Asthma Federation, aims to raise awareness about allergies and their treatment. This year, the campaign runs from March 18–24, featuring events, information, advice, and peer support organized by the federation's member associations across Finland.