What is hay fever?
Hay fever (also called seasonal allergic rhinitis) is
caused by an allergy to pollens or moulds. Grass pollen
is the most common cause (May to July). Less common
causes are tree pollens (March to May), and moulds (July
Who gets hay fever?
At least 1 in 10 people in the UK have hay fever. It
usually first develops before the age of 20. Symptoms
return for a season each year, but it eventually goes
away or improves in many cases.
What are the symptoms of hay fever?
- Common symptoms are a
runny and itchy nose, blocked nose, sneezing, itchy
and watery red eyes, and sore throat. Sometimes only
nose symptoms, or only eye symptoms occur.
- Less common symptoms are
loss of smell, facial pains, sweats, and headache.
- Asthma symptoms such as
wheeze and breathlessness may get worse if you have
asthma. Some people have asthma symptoms only
during the hay fever season.
Will it help if I avoid pollen?
It is impossible to totally avoid pollen. However,
symptoms tend to be less severe if you reduce your
exposure to pollen. The pollen count is often given with
TV, radio, internet, or newspaper weather forecasts. The
following may help when the pollen count is high.
- Stay indoors as much as
possible, and keep windows and doors shut.
- Avoid cutting grass, large
grassy places, and camping.
- Shower and wash your hair after
being outdoors. Especially after going to the
- Wear wrap-around sunglasses when
your are out.
- Bring in washing, and close
windows before the evening when pollen falls as the
- Keep car windows closed, and
consider buying a pollen filter for the air vents in
What are the
treatment options for hay fever?
Antihistamine tablets or liquid medicines
Antihistamines work by blocking the action of histamine.
A dose usually works within an hour or so to ease
symptoms. Therefore, they can be taken 'as required' if
symptoms are mild, or come and go. You can also take
antihistamines regularly if you have symptoms every day.
Antihistamines ease most of the symptoms, but may not
be so good at clearing a blocked nose (nasal
congestion). There are several brands of antihistamines
which you can buy at pharmacies or get on prescription.
Older brands such as chlorpheniramine (Piriton) work
well, but make some people drowsy. Newer brands tend to
cause less drowsiness. Ask the pharmacist for advice.
A steroid nose spray is usually the most
effective treatment for all the nose symptoms (itch,
sneezing, watering, and blocked nose). It works by
reducing inflammation in the nose. It takes several days
for a steroid spray to build up to its full effect.
Therefore, you will not have immediate relief of
symptoms when you first start it. (It is best to start
taking it a week before the hay fever season begins if
you know that you have hay fever.) You need to take it
each day over the hay fever season to keep symptoms
away. There are several brands which you can buy at
pharmacies, or get on prescription. Steroid nose sprays
also tend to ease eye symptoms. It is not clear how they
help the eye symptoms - but they do!
If necessary, you can use eye drops in addition to other
Treatment for severe symptoms
Rarely, a short course of steroid tablets is
prescribed. For example, to clear symptoms for students
sitting exams who have severe symptoms which are not
eased by other treatments. Steroids work well to reduce
inflammation. A short course is usually safe. However,
you should not take steroid tablets for long periods to
treat hay fever, as serious side-effects may develop.
Asthma and hay fever
If you develop asthma symptoms during the hay fever
season you may be prescribed an inhaler. If you already
have asthma, your asthma may become worse in the hay
fever season. You may need an increase in the dose of
your usual inhalers (or other treatment that you take
Treatment works well in most cases. Tell your doctor if
symptoms persist, despite treatment. A change in
treatment, or an alteration in the dose of a current
treatment may be an option to ease symptoms which