Hay fever symptoms

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Hay fever symptoms can affect both adults and children around the world. Hay fever is also called pollen allergy and is a common allergic reaction to pollen from grasses, trees and weeds. It occurs in some people when pollen comes into contact with your mouth, eyes, nose and throat. Hay fever symptoms can last for weeks or months at a time and can make you feel downright miserable.

We take hay fever symptoms seriously as we know what an effect they can have on your life. In this article, we’ll be discussing the tell-tale signs to look for if you think you may be experiencing pollen allergy symptoms. We’ll look at ways you can manage your symptoms of hay fever and the available treatment options.

Hay fever symptoms: a misleading name for those pesky sniffles

Although they’re called hay fever symptoms, it doesn’t mean you’re allergic to hay. And hay fever doesn’t usually cause a fever. It’s a name that's stuck around since the early 19th century, when John Bostock, a London doctor, made the connection that the symptoms he was experiencing were caused by something that happened during the summer just around the hay harvest.

Seasonal allergic rhinitis = hay fever symptoms

Hay fever symptoms are a form of allergic rhinitis. Hay fever is sometimes referred to as seasonal allergic rhinitis as it occurs during the months when plants release pollen. Allergic rhinitis is defined as an inflammatory condition of the lining of your nose. It means the inside of your nose becomes irritated and inflamed because your body reacts to airborne allergens. In the case of hay fever symptoms that’s pollen.


Pollen is one of the most common causes of allergies. A tiny amount of pollen powder can contain several thousand pollen grains. When breathed in these can trigger hay fever symptoms.

What’s pollen?

To understand hay fever, we need to take a look at pollen. Pollen is one of the most common causes of allergy. Pollen grains are very fine particles released by plants into the air to fertilize other plants of the same species. Just a tiny amount of pollen powder can contain several thousand pollen grains. When we breathe in pollen it can trigger hay fever symptoms in some people.

Hay fever symptoms can make you feel lousy

Pollen allergy symptoms can start at varying times of the year, depending on which pollen you are reacting to. Pollen is usually 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. However, the flowering period of the different plants depends on the region and climate where you live.

9 hay fever symptoms checklist

  • Stuffy nose (nasal congestion)
  • Runny nose, usually with clear fluid
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy nose
  • Itchy, red or watery eyes
  • Post-nasal drip (the feeling of mucus moving down the back of your throat)
  • Cough
  • Tight chest or wheezing
  • Sinus inflammation/pain

Hay fever can involve any combination of the symptoms from the checklist, but a stuffy, runny nose and sneezing are among the most common hay fever symptoms.

Hay fever symptoms

Hay fever can cause more than the typical symptoms of sneezing, runny nose and watery eyes. For some people, pollen allergy symptoms can considerably interfere with everyday life. Let’s take a look at some of the most common ways hay fever symptoms can take their toll:

Hay fever symptoms can have quite an impact on your life

  • Hay fever symptoms and sleep
    Poorly controlled hay fever symptoms can contribute to losing sleep or having disturbed periods of sleep. In turn, the lack of sleep can lead to you feeling tired and drained during the day.

  • Hay fever symptoms at school
    Hay fever in school children and college students can have an impact on their ability to learn and concentrate. Exams often take place during the spring and early summer months, which can be the peak pollen season. For students with hay fever, it may affect their ability to be successful in exams. Severe hay fever symptoms can lead to students having to be absent from school or college.

  • Hay fever symptoms at work
    Hay fever can impair your ability to concentrate at work and may affect your productivity and performance. Severe hay fever symptoms can be a significant cause of having to take time off from work.

  • Hay fever symptoms and mental healt
    It’s not only your physical health that can be affected by hay fever. Hay fever symptoms can also affect your emotional and mental health. Severe hay fever symptoms may contribute to depression and anxiety in some people.

What’s the difference between symptoms of a cold and hay fever symptoms?

Some people have no idea they even have hay fever symptoms. It can be easy to assume those sniffles and sneezes are caused by yet another cold. But if you suspect your symptoms might not be a cold after all, there are some typical signs you can look for:


How fast symptoms appear
Colds Hay fever

A cold often develops over a couple of days.

Hay fever symptoms can appear quite suddenly.

Raised temperature or fever
Colds Hay fever

A cold is caused by an infection with a virus and is sometimes accompanied by a high temperature for a few days.

Hay fever is very unlikely to cause a rise in your temperature.

How long the symptoms last
Colds Hay fever

Usually about 1 week.

Last as long as you’re exposed to your triggers. Hay fever symptoms can last many weeks during the pollen season.

Read more about the difference between allergy and a cold.

What causes hay fever symptoms?

We need to look at the mechanics of allergy to understand the cause of pollen allergy symptoms.

If you have hay fever, your immune system mistakenly identifies pollen as a threat and overreacts to try to protect you. Your immune system produces antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE), which tell other cells to release certain chemicals, including histamine. And it’s those chemicals that cause the annoying hay fever symptoms.

The pollen season and hay fever symptoms

When your hay fever symptoms are triggered depends on the type of pollen you react to. Different types of pollen will be in the air at different times of the year. Trees, grasses and weeds all pollinate at varying times. The start and end of the pollen season can be affected by several different factors such as the weather and where you live.

Impact of climate change on hay fever symptoms

Climate change is having an impact on airborne allergens, particularly pollens. The timing of tree and grass pollen seasons depends on when spring temperatures break the winter. This means the duration of the pollen season is extended in some plant species. And plants have been found to produce a greater quantity of pollen under these changed conditions. All of this can, of course, impact your pollen allergy symptoms.

Managing hay fever symptoms

The good news is hay fever symptoms are usually manageable. We’ll go through some of the options for you below.

Pollen calendar and pollen forecast

Use a pollen calendar or pollen and weather forecast. Airborne pollen spreads easily on dry, windy days and less so on rainy days. Checking the pollen calendar and pollen forecast means you can plan when you go out around when the level of pollen is lower.

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8 tips to reduce your contact with pollen

Limiting your exposure to pollen can help keep those pesky hay fever symptoms at bay.

  • During peak pollen periods spend time at the coast or in the mountains if you can. Pollen counts are usually lower there.
  • Big sunglasses or wrap-around sunglasses can help prevent pollen getting in your eyes.
  • 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.
  • After being outdoors during the pollen season, it’s a good idea to wash your clothes.
  • Try drying your laundry indoors when the pollen count is high as pollen in the breeze can stick to clothing.

Hay fever symptom relief

Another way to temporarily manage hay fever symptoms is taking symptom relief such as antihistamines, corticosteroids or decongestants.

Antihistamines block the chemical histamine that’s triggering your hay fever symptoms. Corticosteroids can help calm inflammation. And the purpose of decongestants is to help with your blocked nose. However, decongestants should only be taken for a limited time.

Antihistamines and corticosteroids can be taken to relieve hay fever symptoms. Or they can be used as a short-term preventative measure, ideally a couple of weeks before the pollen season starts or before your hay fever symptoms have been triggered. There are different types available such as tablets, nasal sprays or eye drops.

Always follow your doctor’s or pharmacist’s advice as well as the instructions in the patient information leaflet when taking hay fever symptom relief.

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What is dust mite allergy?

Hay fever symptoms all year round?

If you experience hay fever-like symptoms all year round, or you find they only occur at a certain place, it might not be hay fever at all. Those symptoms could potentially be caused by breathing in particles of airborne allergens other than pollen.

As well as pollen, allergic rhinitis can also be triggered by an allergy to other airborne allergens such as dust mites, mold spores or pet dander. Pet dander is dead skin flakes, droplets of saliva or urine from an animal, commonly from cats or dogs.

Some people with hay fever-like symptoms don’t have allergies. This is called non-allergic rhinitis. The symptoms may feel similar to those of allergic rhinitis but unlike an allergy, the immune system isn’t involved.

Baffled? It can be confusing, can’t it? We’ll always encourage you to talk to your health care provider to identify what’s causing your symptoms

Could immunotherapy
be for you?

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When to see a doctor about your hay fever symptoms

Often, the symptoms of hay fever develop over time. You may become used to frequent bouts of sneezing, itchy, watery eyes and a blocked nose. But if you’re experiencing severe hay fever symptoms that are having an impact on your life, you don’t have to put up with them. Hay fever symptoms might improve with time, but it’s unlikely they’ll completely go away.

We recommend you make an appointment to discuss your symptoms with your health care provider. You may be referred for allergy testing to establish exactly what’s causing your symptoms and to rule out others. Your health care provider will be able to offer advice about treatment options that are appropriate for you.

Allergy immunotherapy treatment

If your hay fever is not well controlled your health care provider may discuss allergy immunotherapy as a treatment option for severe hay fever symptoms. Immunotherapy targets the root cause of your allergy. Over a period of time, immunotherapy modifies your allergy so that in time your exposure to the allergen doesn’t provoke symptoms.

How does immunotherapy work?

During immunotherapy treatment, you are given repeated tiny doses of an allergen, either as injections or as tablets under your tongue. Immunotherapy aims to teach your immune system to get used to the allergen, so that when you encounter it as part of your daily life, you’ll have a much milder reaction to it. Allergy immunotherapy treatment can reduce your need for hay fever symptom relief medicines.

You’ll be able to discuss the details of allergy immunotherapy with your health care provider so you can decide if it’s right for you.

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