Understanding Hay Fever: Symptoms, Causes & Treatments
What is hay fever?
Hay fever is a very common allergic reaction to pollen, with up to 49% of the UK’s population suffering from hay fever symptoms.2 Hay fever occurs at particular times of year, usually between March and September when it’s warm, humid and windy.1 It is a reaction to pollen from grass, trees and weeds which shares symptoms with perennial allergic rhinitis and can affect both adults and children.2
What causes hay fever?
Hay fever is caused by the body making allergic antibodies (IgE) in response to certain substances, such as pollen, dust mites or mould, known as allergens.2
Grass pollen is the most common allergen but tree and weed pollen can also cause hay fever. In perennial allergic rhinitis the symptoms usually relate to indoor allergens such as house dust mites, mould, or pets.2
Hay fever symptoms
Hay fever symptoms include:1
- 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 or forehead
- Feeling tired
Hay fever usually lasts for weeks or months, unlike a cold, which usually disappears after one or two weeks.1 If you’re still unsure, take a look at our table of symptoms for further guidance.
How to manage hay fever
Managing hay fever is key to reducing your symptoms and improving your quality of life during the warmer months. Hay fever symptoms can be relieved by avoiding allergic triggers, including:2
- Monitor pollen forecasts daily and stay indoors wherever possible when the count is high (usually on warm, dry days). Rain washes pollen from the air so counts should be lower on cool, wet days
- On high pollen days, shower and wash your hair after arriving home and change your clothing
- Avoid drying clothing on a clothesline outside when pollen counts are high
- Apply an effective allergen barrier balm around the edge of each nostril to trap or block pollens and other allergens and help prevent a reaction
- Keep windows and doors shut as much as possible
- Vacuum regularly and dust with a damp cloth
How to treat hay fever
Unfortunately, there’s currently no cure for hay fever, however there are several methods of treatment to relieve hay fever symptoms.1
Antihistamines are often used to relieve symptoms of allergies, including hay fever symptoms. They block the effects of histamine in your body. Histamine is normally released when your body detects something harmful such as an infection. However, in people with allergies, the body mistakes something harmless such as pollen for a threat and produces histamine. The histamine causes an allergic reaction with unpleasant symptoms.3
Antihistamines help prevent this process if you take them before you come into contact with substances you’re allergic to, or they can reduce the severity of your symptoms if taken afterwards.3
Most antihistamines can be purchased from pharmacies and shops; however, some are only available with a prescription.3
Steroid nasal sprays
Steroid nasal sprays are anti-inflammatory medicines that you spray into your nose and can be used to treat a variety of conditions including hay fever. Steroids are a man-made version of hormones normally produced by the adrenal glands. When sprayed into the nose, steroids reduce inflammation, which can help relieve hay fever symptoms.4
Some hay fever nasal sprays are available to purchase from pharmacies and shops, while others are only available on prescription.4
If other treatments don’t work, your GP might refer you for immunotherapy. This involves receiving small amounts of pollen as an injection or tablet to slowly build up your immunity. This kind of treatment usually starts in the winter, about three months before the hay fever season begins, which is a good method for managing hay fever in advance.1
Immunotherapy is a specialist treatment and therefore may not be available everywhere.1
- Hay Fever. NHS. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hay-fever/ Accessed 27/01/2022.
- Hay Fever and Allergic Rhinitis. Allergy UK. https://www.allergyuk.org/types-of-allergies/hayfever/ Accessed 27/01/2022.
- Antihistamines. NHS. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/antihistamines/ Accessed 27/01/2022.
- Steroid Nasal Sprays. NHS. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/steroid-nasal-sprays/ Accessed 27/01/2022.