Seasonal allergic rhinitis or hay fever is a very common allergy in the UK and affects 20-25% of people.  Hay fever can affect daily activities, sleep, concentration and performance at school. Hay-fever usually occurs in summer when most people prefer to be outside.

What is hay fever?

Hay fever or allergic rhinitis is caused by allergy to grass and/or tree pollens. Exposure to the pollens causes irritation of the lining of the nose, eyes and throat. Asthma and eczema can also be worse during the pollen season.

What are the symptoms of hay fever?

Nasal symptoms include itching, sneezing, watery nasal discharge (runny nose) and blockage. The eyes can become itchy and look red and swollen. The throat may also be itchy. Some may also suffer from headache and loss of smell.

Why does it happen?

The exact reasons for having hay fever are not fully clear. Some people with allergic rhinitis are highly atopic. Atopy describes the tendency to have allergies (including eczema, asthma, allergic rhinitis and food allergy) this tendency is partly decided by:

  • Genetic make up
  • Exposure to pollen

Some people with hay-fever had eczema in early life as well as food allergies and asthma. Most develop hay-fever for the first time as a teenager.

How is it diagnosed?

Most hay fever is caused by allergy to grass or tree pollens and so the symptoms are seasonal. Skin prick or blood tests can be done by your doctor to confirm the cause of the allergy.

How is it avoided?

Avoiding pollen is difficult. However the following may help when the pollen count is high.

  • Check local pollen counts, avoid being outdoors in the early morning and evening, or after a thunder storm when pollen levels are highest.
  • Sleep with the bedroom window closed
  • Keep car windows shut when travelling
  • Travel to beaches rather than open grassy areas during the pollen season
  • After being outdoors, remove and wash clothes, shower and wash your hair to rinse away pollen
  • Bathe eyes with water
  • Avoid hanging clothes on washing lines during high pollen count days
  • Take holidays to regions with lower pollen counts than home.

How is it treated?

Different treatments might be needed, depending on how severe your symptoms are. For most people taking a non drowsy allergy tablet as needed is enough but some need regular treatment

  • Nasal steroid sprays are the best treatment for nose symptoms. These are effective, easy to use and advice will be given during your clinic appointment. Sprays act as preventers and so you will get most benefit if they are taken before your symptoms start and you continue to use them regularly during the season.
  • Antihistamines act as preventers and relievers, so they should also be given before symptoms start. If you still get symptoms despite taking an antihistamine you can take a second dose. It is very important to use an antihistamine that is non-sedating.
  • Eye drops can be very helpful for patients with eye symptoms. There are many different types. Sometimes nasal steroid sprays also help eye symptoms.

If using these medicines still does not control your symptoms then specific immunotherapy may reduce allergy to grass pollen.

How long will I have hay fever?

Hay fever symptoms are very common in young people but can be less troublesome as you get older. At present, it is not possible to predict whose hay fever will get better and whose will remain. Some patients will go on to develop asthma, which is commonly recognised as a persistent wheeze and may require specific treatment

Met Office pollen calendar for the UK