HAYFEVER

Your Health

Hay fever is a common allergic condition that affects up to one in five people at some point in their life.

Symptoms of hay fever include:

  • sneezing
  • a runny nose
  • itchy eyes

The symptoms of hay fever are caused when a person has an allergic reaction to pollen.

Who is affected?

Hay fever is one of the most common allergic conditions. It is estimated that there are more than 10 million people with hay fever in England.

Hay fever usually begins in childhood or during the teenage years, but you can get it at any age.

The condition is more common in boys than in girls. In adults, men and women are equally affected.

Hay fever is more likely if there is a family history of allergies, particularly asthma or eczema.

Being exposed to tobacco smoke during early childhood is a risk factor


Symptoms

Hay fever symptoms vary in severity and may be worse some years than others, depending on the weather conditions and the pollen count. The time of year your symptoms start depends on the types of pollen you're allergic to.

The symptoms of hay fever include:

  • frequent sneezing
  • runny or blocked nose
  • itchy, red or watery eyes (also known as allergic conjunctivitis)
  • an itchy throat, mouth, nose and ears
  • cough, caused by postnasal drip (mucus dripping down the throat from the back of the nose)

Hay fever and asthma

If you have asthma, your asthma symptoms may get worse when you have hay fever. Sometimes, asthma symptoms only occur when you have hay fever. 
These symptoms include:

  • tight chest
  • shortness of breath
  • coughing
  • wheezing

Many people find that their symptoms improve as they get older. Around half of people report some improvement in symptoms after several years. In around 10%-20% of people symptoms go away completely.


Causes of hay fever

Hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen. This affects your body in the following way:

  1. When these tiny particles come into contact with the cells that line your mouth, nose, eyes and throat, they irritate them and trigger an allergic reaction, to become swollen, irritated and inflamed. 
  2. When you have an allergic reaction, your body overreacts to something it perceives as a threat. In hay fever, the allergen (the substance you are allergic to) is pollen. Your immune system (the body’s natural defence system) starts to respond as if it were being attacked by a virus.
  3. Your immune system will release a number of chemicals designed to prevent the spread of what it wrongly perceives as an infection.
  4. These chemicals then cause the symptoms of the allergic reaction, such as watering eyes and a runny nose.

What is pollen?

There are about 30 different types of pollen, with different trees and plants producing their pollen at different times of the year, so depending on which pollen you are allergic to, you may experience your hay fever symptoms at different times. It's possible to be allergic to more than one type of pollen. Research suggests that pollution, such as cigarette smoke or car exhaust fumes, can make allergies worse. 

when is pollen at its worst?

What is the pollen count?

Hay fever symptoms are likely to be worse if the pollen count is high. The pollen count is the number of grains of pollen in one cubic metre of air.

more information about the pollen count

The effect of the weather

The amount of sunshine, rain or wind affects how much pollen plants release and how much the pollen is spread around. On humid and windy days, pollen spreads easily. On rainy days, pollen may be cleared from the air, causing pollen levels to fall.

During their pollen season, plants release pollen early in the morning. As the day gets warmer and more flowers open, pollen levels rise. On sunny days, the pollen count is highest in the early evening.


Treatment

There is currently no cure for hay fever but most people are able to relieve symptoms with treatment, at least to a certain extent.

In an ideal world, the most effective way to control hay fever would be to avoid exposure to pollen. However, it's very difficult to avoid pollen, particularly during the summer months when you want to spend more time outdoors.

medication for hayfever

immunotherapy

read more about treating hay fever.


Self-help tips for preventing hay fever

It is sometimes possible to prevent the symptoms of hay fever by taking some basic precautions, such as:

  • wearing wraparound sunglasses to stop pollen getting in your eyes when you are outdoors
  • change your clothes and take a shower after being outdoors to remove the pollen on your body
  • try to stay indoors when the pollen count is high (over 50). See hay fever symptoms for an explanation of the pollen count

It is very difficult to completely avoid pollen. However, reducing your exposure to the substances that trigger your hay fever should ease your symptoms.

Staying indoors

Avoiding pollen outside


Complications

Hay fever does not pose a serious threat to health but it can have a negative impact on your quality of life. People with very bad hay fever often find that it can disrupt their productivity at school or work.

Another common complication of hay fever is inflammation of the sinuses (sinusitis). Children in particular may also develop a middle ear infection (otitis media) as a result of hay fever.

 read more about the complications of hay fever.  


When to seek medical advice

Most cases of hay fever can be treated using over-the-counter medication.

A pharmacist can advise on treatments for you or your children.

You would normally only need to see your GP if:

  • you can't control your symptoms with over-the-counter medications or you are having troublesome side effects caused by the medication
  • you are experiencing persistent complications of hay fever, such as worsening of asthma or repeated episodes of sinusitis
  • the pattern of your symptoms is unusual; such as occurring during the winter or only at your workplace – it is likely that another substance other than pollen is responsible and further testing will be required to confirm this