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Guide to Hay Fever Symptoms and Treatments
Medically reviewed by Sharon Copeland on 16 March 2021
What is hay fever?
Hay fever is the common name for allergic rhinitis, an allergy that arises when the body overreacts to outdoor or indoor allergens and causes inflammation in the nose. The allergy is often suffered at certain times of the year and typically reoccurs each year for sufferers.
This type of hay fever is referred to as ‘seasonal’, while some people also suffer from ‘perennial hay fever’, which occurs all year round.
Hay fever is said to affect one in five people during their lives and is a common problem that can impact your day-to-day quality of life. However, if you understand the cause behind the condition, when the risk is highest and the treatments available, you’ll be much better prepared come spring and summertime. Hay fever can often be disguised as the common cold. If you aren’t sure whether or not you suffer from hay fever, a blood test or allergy test can help your doctor determine if you do.
What are the allergy symptoms of hay fever?
- Runny nose
- Blocked nose
- Repeated sneezing
- Itchy eyes
- Red eyes
- Watery eyes
- General fatigue
- Itchy throat
Symptoms of hay fever may also include a tight feeling in the chest, shortness of breath and/or wheezing and coughing. Unlike the common cold, hay fever will last for weeks or months.
What causes hay fever?
Hay fever occurs when your immune system overreacts to the inhalation of harmless allergens such as grass pollen, dust or pet dander, releasing substances called histamines into the bloodstream to ‘protect’ your body from these allergens.
These histamines are behind the inflammation of the nasal passage, sinuses and eyelids, causing nasal congestion that, while intended to stop the allergens from getting into your body, actually causes discomfort and irritation.
Seasonal hay fever or pollen seasons typically occur in spring and summer, caused by the extra pollen in the air. In the spring, pollen from trees is the usual suspect for triggering hay fever, while grass and weed pollen are much more likely to be behind the allergy in the summer.
In these months, pollen is in abundance in the air and can easily be inhaled, causing an allergic reaction within the nose and sinuses. Eyes can also be affected by pollen that gathers on them or the skin around them, leading to discomfort and irritation.
Alternatively, for sufferers of perennial hay fever, allergies are more likely to be caused by other allergens than pollen. These other allergens can include house dust mites, mould and pet dander.
Allergic conjunctivitis or hay fever?
When we experience an allergic reaction, sometimes, we can develop allergic conjunctivitis. This condition is when the conjunctiva becomes inflamed due to triggers such as pollen, dust mites, mould spores, contact lens use and cosmetics. Hay fever, in particular, can cause this type of inflammation. Eyes will generally feel itchy and sore, which can be uncomfortable, although it is usually not painful.
What does allergic conjunctivitis look like?
Symptoms of allergic conjunctivitis are similar to that of hay fever; these include watery eyes and/or red eyes as well as discharge.
Will allergic conjunctivitis go away by itself?
If exposure to the allergen is minimal, allergic conjunctivitis can go away by itself. However, if allergen exposure is severe, medication might be necessary. In rare cases, this condition can cause vision loss if left untreated. Before it gets too bad, you can purchase over-the-counter medication which contains sodium cromoglicate.
How to get rid of hay fever
There is no cure for hay fever, but there are many ways to help alleviate the symptoms. At any chemist/optician’s in the UK, you’ll be able to find over-the-counter eye drops specially designed to combat the symptoms of hay fever. These eye drops contain an antihistamine, which works to relieve symptoms and bring down the allergy.
Other OTC (over-the-counter) medicines you can find at your local chemists include anti-histamine nasal sprays and anti-histamine tablets.
If you find that your symptoms don’t improve after using one of these medications, it’s highly advisable to visit your local GP to discuss your hay fever and for a long term solution.
You may find yourself experiencing some symptoms more severely than others, such as itchy eyes. Read our guide on how to stop itchy eyes from hay fever for more information.
While these are simple and highly effective treatment options, you can also take a few precautions to protect yourself from hay fever.
How to prevent hay fever
Being outside will increase your exposure to pollen, so if you can, stay indoors as much as possible. It’s worth remembering if you are making plans to go out that the pollen count is typically higher earlier in the morning and the evenings during spring and summertime. And if you are staying in, it’s a good idea to keep the windows closed to prevent pollen from getting in.
The Met Office can tell you what the pollen count is in your area that day, so make sure to check before leaving the house.
Beware of clothes
Change your clothes after coming in from outside during hay fever season, as the fabric will have undoubtedly picked up bits of pollen while you were out. It’s also a good idea to keep your shoes stored away and as close to the door as possible to prevent pollen being spread throughout the house.
As well as on clothing, pollen can quite easily gather on your skin while you’re out of the house. Regular washing, especially of your hands and face (including the areas around your eyes), can help clear away any pollen before it can cause irritation.
Dailies over monthlies
If you’re a monthly or two weekly contact lens wearer during hay fever season, it might be worth speaking with your optician to see if you can switch to daily contact lenses. By replacing the lenses daily, you’ll guarantee that you’ll be applying pollen-free lenses.
However, if you would rather stick with your monthlies or two weeklies, take extra care to thoroughly clean and store them overnight in solution to get rid of any tiny bits of pollen that may have accumulated.
Wear wrap-around sunglasses
Not just for UV protection, wrap-around sunglasses offer your eyes and the areas around your eyes protection from pollen in the air that could cause irritation.
While other styles of sunglasses also offer protection, wrap-around styles have proven particularly effective during hay fever season due to their full coverage.
Bring eye drops with you
If you regularly suffer from hay fever, antihistamine eye drops are useful to keep with you when you’re out and about. Just be sure not you use these eye drops with contact lenses.
You can find plenty of different eye drops/nasal sprays and other hay fever medicine at your local chemist, available as over-the-counter treatments. You should avoid rubbing your eyes, use a cool compress to soothe irritation, such as our Thera Pearl Eye Mask.
As a home remedy, a small amount of Vaseline (petroleum gel) can be applied to the inside of the nasal passage to trap pollen grains. Vacuuming and dusting with a damp cloth can also help to keep pollen out of your surroundings. You could also buy a pollen filter for the air vents in your car and use a vacuum in your house with a HEPA filter. You should discuss treatment options with your doctor to ensure you understand all possible side effects.
Quick links:A guide to eye allergies
How to use eye drops
Top tips for contact lenses and allergies