What is hay fever?
Hay fever – all you need to know and what you can do
Sneezing, sniffly and itchy nose … how do you know if it’s hay fever or a summer cold? Let’s take a look at what hay fever is, what causes it and how long it might last. And discover what treatments for hay fever are available.
What is hay fever?Hay fever is the most common respiratory allergy. Specifically, it’s an allergy to pollen, the fine powdery dust from grasses, trees and weeds. It is a type of allergic rhinitis, an inflammation of the tissue lining the nose.
Did you know...?
- The term “hay fever” was first used early in the 19th century to describe a condition believed to be a form of a summer cold Symptoms coincided with the hay harvest so it was assumed that hay was the underlying cause
- Before the Industrial Revolution, hay fever was not common at all
- Today, hay fever affects around 5 million people in the UK
- 10-30% of all adults and up to 40% of children have hay fever
What causes hay fever?Hay fever is when your immune system overreacts to allergens in the air. We’re talking about microscopic substances in the air you breathe. And they can cause an allergic reaction. That's because your immune system misinterprets these harmless substances as dangerous and tries to get rid of them.
Pollen is released from early spring, through the summer and even into the autumn. But you are more likely to experience hay fever symptoms during late spring and early summer.
If you experience hay fever-like symptoms all year round, this might be an allergy to house dust mites or pet dander. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms to see exactly what you’re allergic to and possible treatments.
What are the symptoms of hay fever?Typical hay fever symptoms include:
- Nasal congestion (a blocked nose)
- Runny nose
- Itchy nose, palate and throatPost-nasal drip (the feeling of mucus moving down the back of your throat)
Additionally, other symptoms might occur.
- Itchy, red or watery eyes
- Tight chest or wheezing
Hay fever or cold?The symptoms of hay fever and those of a common cold are very similar. How can you know if it really is hay fever?
Well, colds are due to infections with viruses. In hay fever, there is no infectious bug. The body is reacting to allergens in the air.
There are two key factors to tell the difference: How quickly the symptoms develop and how long they last.
- Often develops over a few days
- Mostly resolves within a few days or a week
- Can appear quite suddenly
- Usually persists for longer or keeps coming back.
As with all allergies speak to your GP or pharmacist about your symptoms. That way you can find out if it really is hay fever, and which types of pollen trigger your allergy.
Your doctor will usually ask you about your symptoms, and when and where they appear.
Allergies are often inherited. So, your doctor may ask if there are any known allergies in your family. A skin prick test or blood tests may be necessary to determine which allergens are causing your symptoms.
How do I manage hay fever?As for most allergies, there are three main ways to help manage your hay fever:
- Avoiding your triggers
- Treating acute symptoms
- Long term relief
You can mix and match and find what combination works for you.
Avoiding allergens in the air – is that even possible?
Many different types of pollen can cause hay fever. And pollen levels affect everyone differently. Trees, grasses and weeds all pollinate at different times. Knowing exactly which pollen you are allergic to can help you plan for that particular pollen season.
Your allergy symptoms may be particularly bad at a certain time of the day. For example, when the species of pollen you are allergic to is at its highest. Weather also plays a role. More pollen moves through the air on hot, dry and windy days.
Having a pollen calendar or pollen and weather forecast is really useful. It means you can find out exactly when pollen is present where you are. And then you can adjust your daily routine: like when you spend time outdoors for example. Take a look at our Klara app. Klara can give you personalised pollen scores, real-time air quality information and much more. It’s quick, easy and accurate.
Simple tricks to keep pollen out of your homeReducing the amount of pollen that gets into your home is key to managing your symptoms:
- Keep windows and doors closed whenever you can
- Air your rooms when the pollen count is low
- Consider installing air conditioning or using special air purifiers
- Wash your hair before going to bed and leave your clothes outside your bedroom
- Don't dry laundry outside. Use a tumble dryer or hang your laundry inside your home instead
Avoiding pollen with drug-free remedies for hay feverYou can try drug-free products to help keep allergens out of your nose. That way the allergic reaction is not triggered and you don't need to suppress the reaction with medication. But how do you keep pollen out of your nose in the first place?
Nasal filters against pollen
You can use our nasal filter RHINIX™. It's a simple idea: a discreet filter which reduces the amount of pollen entering your airways. Clinical studies have shown that RHINIX™ can prevent allergy symptoms including sneezing, itchy nose, runny nose, watery eyes and drowsiness.
Nasal cellulose spray to block pollen
Or you can use Allergen Blocker, when you are out and about. Allergen Blocker is a fast-acting, natural cellulose powder used as a nasal spray. The powder turns into a gel inside your nose, creating a barrier to limit contact with airborne allergens. The efficacy of Allergen Blocker has been proven in more than 28 clinical trials.
Nasal irrigation to flush pollen out
Nasal irrigation can help flush allergens out of your nose and can keep the sensitive tissue clean. This may reduce irritation and hay fever symptoms. You can try NasoFree® nasal irrigator, an easy-squeeze bottle specially designed for rinsing the nose and paranasal sinuses.
Being drug-free means that these products are non-drowsy and can be used no matter what other steps you're taking to relieve your hay fever symptoms.
Medication for treating hay feverThere are several types of medication available for hay fever, for example:
Antihistamines and corticosteroid nasal sprays are the two most commonly used.
Antihistamines for treating hay fever
Antihistamines are available as tablets, nasal sprays and eye drops. Antihistamines work by blocking the action of histamine. Histamine is a chemical messenger our bodies produce in response to what it sees as a threat. Our bodies react to the perceived threat with sneezing, runny nose and itchy, watery eyes.
You may find that one particular antihistamine works better for you than others. Seek help from your GP or pharmacist to find an antihistamine that suits you.
Corticosteroids for treating hay fever
Corticosteroids are used as therapy for the management of many inflammatory and immune medical conditions. They are among the most widely used drugs in the world. Corticosteroid nasal sprays have been shown to be very effective for treating hay fever if used correctly.
Corticosteroids are also called glucocorticosteroids, glucocorticoids or just steroids. It’s important to know that corticosteroids are not the same as the anabolic steroids, used by athletes and body builders to enhance performance.
If symptoms can’t be controlled with over the counter antihistamines or nasal steroids, your doctor may consider prescription-only tablets, nose sprays or eye drops.
Decongestants for treating hay fever
Decongestants, taken either as pills or as a nose spray, can be helpful in providing short term relief from hay fever. But these should not be used for more than a few days.
Side effects of hay fever treatments
Side effects are possible with any of the medications used to treat hay fever. Always read the product’s leaflet or ask your GP or pharmacist for advice.
Long term relief with specialist treatmentsIf you find your symptoms are not adequately covered by your current medical treatment, what next? Well, there may be specialist treatments available as an alternative.
Your allergy specialist may suggest immunotherapy. Allergy immunotherapy treats the underlying cause of hay fever through controlled, repeated exposure to the allergens. This helps your body to build up tolerance to the substance that causes your hay fever.
For more information about allergy immunotherapy, including possible side effects, talk it through with your GP.