Hay Fever and Allergic Rhinitis

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What is hay fever?

Hay fever is a common allergic reaction which occurs at particular times of the year. It is known as seasonal rhinitis, sharing symptoms with perennial (year round) allergic rhinitis, but occurring as a reaction to pollen from grass, trees and weeds during the early spring and summer months. It can affect both adults and children.

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What causes hay fever?

Hay fever is caused when the body makes allergic antibodies (IgE) to certain substances, such as pollen, house dust mites or mould, which are known as allergens.

Grass pollen is the most common allergen (May to July), but tree (February to June) and weed (June to September) pollens can also cause the allergic reaction we know as hay fever. In perennial allergic rhinitis the symptoms continue all year round and usually relate to indoor allergens, such as house dust mites, pets, including birds, or moulds.

What are the symptoms of hay fever?

  • Itchy eyes/ throat
  • Sneezing, blocked/runny nose
  • Watering, red eyes (allergic conjunctivitis)
  • Headaches, blocked sinuses
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tiredness
  • The sensation of mucus running down the back of the throat, which can also be a symptom, is called ‘post-nasal drip’.

These symptoms may become more severe when the pollen count is high.

What hay fever medications could I use?

The treatments prescribed for allergy control the symptoms and reactions; they do not cure the condition. Find out more about treatments from our Factsheet.

Antihistamines are probably the best known type of allergy medication, and most are readily available from a pharmacy without prescription. However, there are a number of different types of antihistamines; some have been used for many years, some are improvements on old drugs, and new antihistamines are being developed all the time. While antihistamines used to have a reputation for making people drowsy, more modern antihistamines only occasionally have those side effects. These can be used on their own for mild hay fever or in combination with an intranasal steroid spray for moderate to severe symptoms You can find out more about how antihistamines work on our ‘Allergy Medications’ Factsheet.

Did you know...

A 2020 study by Allergy UK and Kleenex® suggests a surge in UK hay fever sufferers over the last few years

  • up to 56%

    of people

    are anxious that others may mistake their symptoms for signs of Covid-19

  • up to 49%

    of UK population

    report suffering from hay fever symptoms

  • up to 37%

    of people

    have developed symptoms for the first time in the last five years

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Greg's Story

Click here to view Greg’s story, an inspirational video from one of our amazing supporters on hay fever and the effects it can have on an individual’s daily routine and social life.

How do I manage hay fever symptoms?

These unpleasant and sometimes debilitating symptoms can be relieved by avoidance of the allergic triggers and the use of antihistamines. Find our 4 top tips below:

  1. Monitor pollen forecasts daily and stay indoors wherever possible when the count is high (generally on warmer, dry days). Rain washes pollen from the air so counts should be lower on cooler, wet days
  2. On high pollen days, shower and wash your hair after arriving home and change your clothing
  3. Avoid drying washing on a clothes-line outside when pollen counts are high
  4. Apply an effective allergen barrier balm around the edge of each nostril to trap or block pollens and other allergens and help prevent a reaction.

For more detailed information about hay fever and for more useful tips on management and treatment, please find further useful resources above.

Allergic eye disease 

Allergic conjunctivitis can be seasonal or all year round (perennial). For most of those affected seasonally the symptoms are part of their hay fever and the cause is the same – grass, tree, and weed or shrub pollen.

What are the symptoms of allergic eye disease

  • Itching eyes
  • Burning, watering and redness of the eyes
  • Puffiness of the eyelids

Perennial allergic conjunctivitis is usually a reaction to house dust mite or pets in the indoor environment. For more information on diagnosis and management of allergic eye disease please see our Factsheet.

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Sam's Story

Sam is nine years old and has been living with Vernal Keratoconjunctivitis (a rare type of allergic eye disease). Sam also has asthma, and between the ages of one and four was admitted several times to hospital via the emergency department.

Allergy to pollens and moulds

Of all airborne allergens that we breathe in outdoors, pollens and mould spores are the most common and problematic. Typical hay fever symptoms are a runny nose, itchy and watery eyes, sneezing, and a feeling of nasal congestion.

Gardens can be designed to reduce exposure to allergens like pollen and moulds. The first principle of treating allergy is avoidance. Total avoidance by staying indoors is not a realistic option, but reducing contact with allergens is possible, particularly where gardens are enclosed.

Pollen levels are at their highest at the beginning of the day, when they rise with the warming air, and at the end of the day when it’s cooling down.

What is pollen food syndrome

Pollen food syndrome, commonly referred to as oral allergy syndrome, is a hypersensitivity reaction to fruits, vegetables and nuts (often referred to as plant based foods) usually causing mild irritant symptoms such as itching of the mouth, lips and throat itching when eaten in their raw form. The most common presentation of pollen food syndrome is to foods that cross react with birch pollen. This is because a variety of plant food allergens have a similar protein structure to birch pollen.

In Europe, the prevalence of birch pollen sensitisation is estimated to be around 8-16%, and of those, approximately 70% cross react with food sources (pollen food syndrome). Foods include: almond, apple, apricot, carrot, celery, cherry, hazelnut, kiwi, nectarine, peanut, peach, pear, plum, potato, soya and walnut.

The most common reactions in Northern Europe are to apples, hazelnut, and carrots. However, this will vary depending on each individual and their pollen allergies. Avoidance of the food that cause reactions is important, however, there is no need to avoid food that do not cause symptoms. Most of the time, the food only needs to be avoided in raw form as cooking denatures (breaks down) the allergen. For many with pollen food syndrome they can tolerate fruit and vegetables that are well cooked. If you are unsure how to manage symptoms or have symptoms suggestive of pollen food syndrome, speak with a health professional.

Hay fever in the news

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