Hay fever is a common allergic condition. It affects up to 1 in 5 people at some point in their life.
You'll experience hay fever symptoms if you have an allergic reaction to pollen.
Pollen is a fine powder released by plants as part of their reproductive cycle. It contains proteins that can cause the nose, eyes, throat and sinuses to become swollen, irritated and inflamed.
You can have an allergy to:
- tree pollen, released during spring
- grass pollen, released during the end of spring and beginning of summer
- weed pollen, released late autumn
Many people find their symptoms improve as they get older.
Complete our self-help guide to check your symptoms and find out what to do next.
The symptoms of hay fever include:
- frequent sneezing
- runny or blocked nose
- itchy, red or watery eyes (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)
Less commonly, you may also experience:
- the loss of your sense of smell (anosmia)
- facial pain (caused by blocked sinuses)
- tiredness and fatigue
If you have asthma, your asthma symptoms may get worse when you have hay fever.
There's currently no cure for hay fever. But most people can relieve symptoms with treatment, at least to a certain extent.
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.
Treatment options for hay fever include:
- antihistamines – which help to prevent an allergic reaction
- corticosteroids (steroids) – which help to reduce inflammation and swelling
When to get professional advice
If you have hay fever, you can get advice and treatment from a pharmacist.
Hay fever can often be controlled using over-the-counter medication from your pharmacist.
Non-urgent advice: Speak to your GP if:
- your symptoms are getting worse
- your symptoms do not improve after taking medicines from the pharmacy
- you're experiencing persistent complications of hay fever, such as worsening asthma or repeated episodes of sinusitis
For severe and persistent hay fever, there's also a type of treatment called immunotherapy. It involves being exposed to small amounts of pollen over time. This builds resistance to pollen's allergic effects. But it can take many months or even years to work.
You can get hay fever at any age. But it usually begins in childhood or during the teenage years. It's more common in boys than girls. In adults, men and women are equally affected
You're more likely to develop hay fever if you have a family history of allergies, particularly asthma or eczema.
It's sometimes possible to prevent the symptoms of hay fever by taking some basic precautions.
- wear wraparound sunglasses to stop pollen getting in your eyes when you're outdoors
- take a shower and change your clothes after being outdoors to remove the pollen on your body
- stay indoors when the pollen count is high (over 50 grains per cubic metre of air)
- apply a small amount of Vaseline (petroleum gel) to the nostrils to trap pollen
Hay fever doesn't pose a serious threat to health. But it can have a negative impact on your quality of life. Very severe hay fever may disrupt your productivity at school or work.
Inflammation of the sinuses (sinusitis) is another common complication of hay fever. Children may also develop a middle ear infection (otitis media) as a result of hay fever.