Hay Fever and Allergic Rhinitis

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What is hay fever?

Hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, is an allergic reaction that occurs when the immune system overreacts to allergens present in the air. Common triggers include pollen, house dust mites, mould spores, and pet dander. When a person with hay fever comes into contact with these allergens, their immune system releases histamines and other chemicals, causing symptoms such as sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, itchy or watery eyes, itchy throat or ears, coughing and fatigue.

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Symptoms of hay fever

Hay fever symptoms can range from mild to severe and may vary depending on the allergen and the individual’s sensitivity. Seasonal allergies, often triggered by pollen, can cause symptoms during specific times of the year. However, some individuals may experience year-round symptoms due to allergens to indoor allergens.

Recognising the symptoms of hay fever and allergic rhinitis is crucial in managing its impact. Common signs and symptoms to look out for are:

  • Persistent and frequent sneezing is a common symptom of hay fever. People affected by allergic rhinitis often experience bouts of sneezing, especially when exposed to allergens such as pollen, dust mites, or pet dander.
  • Runny or stuffy nose (nasal congestion) can lead to difficulty breathing through the nose.
  • Itchy, red, and watery eyes (allergic conjunctivitis) are common symptoms in people living with hay fever. These symptoms can also cause discomfort and sensitivity to light.
  • Itchy throat or ears are often accompanied by irritation or a scratchy feeling.
  • Fatigue and irritability affecting overall energy levels and mood can often be experienced after prolonged exposure to allergens.

Types of allergic rhinitis

Allergic rhinitis is often categorised into two main categories: seasonal and perennial. Understanding the differences between these types can help identify triggers and manage symptoms effectively.

Seasonal allergic rhinitis

Seasonal allergic rhinitis typically occurs during specific times of the year and is often associated with seasonal allergens such as pollen from trees, grasses, or weeds. Symptoms tend to manifest during seasons when these allergens are prevalent in the air. Hay fever is usually worse between late March and September, especially when it’s warm, humid, and windy. This is when the pollen count is at its highest.

Common characteristics of seasonal allergic rhinitis:

  • Symptoms are triggered by outdoor allergens.
  • Symptoms occur during specific seasons.
  • Allergens like tree pollen in the spring, grass pollen in the summer, or weed pollen in the autumn may cause symptoms.
  • Symptoms often include sneezing, runny or stuffy nose, itchy/watery eyes, and itching in the throat or ears.

Perennial Allergic Rhinitis

Perennial allergic rhinitis, on the other hand, refers to year-round symptoms that occur regardless of the season. This type of allergic rhinitis is usually caused by indoor allergens, such as dust mites, pet dander and mould spores.

Common characteristics of perennial allergic rhinitis:

  • Symptoms persist throughout the year.
  • Indoor allergens, like dust mites, pet dander, mould, or cockroach droppings, are the primary triggers.
  • Symptoms may include persistent sneezing, nasal congestion, itchy/watery eyes, and coughing.

Allergic rhinitis and hay fever factsheet

With expert-backed information and practical advice, download our factsheet on allergic rhinitis, which serves as an essential tool in educating individuals to navigate and manage the challenges facing those living with hay fever.

Find out more

Allergic eye disease (allergic conjunctivitis)

If your eyes itch and are red, tearing or burning, you may have allergic conjunctivitis also known as allergic eye disease. Many people will treat their nasal allergy symptoms but ignore their itchy, red, watery eyes.

Find out more

Pollen food syndrome (oral allergy syndrome)

Pollen food syndrome, commonly referred to as oral allergy syndrome, is a hypersensitivity reaction to fruits, vegetables and nuts usually causing mild irritant symptoms such as itching of the mouth, lips and throat and often effects people with a sensitisation to grass, tree or weed pollen.

Find out more

Common triggers for hay fever and allergic rhinitis

  • Pollen: Pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds is a significant trigger for allergic rhinitis, especially during specific seasons. Different types of pollen can affect individuals at different times of the year, leading to seasonal allergies.
  • House dust mites: These microscopic organisms thrive in household dust, bedding, upholstery, and carpets. Sensitivity to dust mites can lead to year-round allergic symptoms, particularly in indoor environments.
  • Pet dander: Proteins found in the skin flakes, urine, and saliva of pets, such as cats, dogs, rodents, and birds, can trigger allergic rhinitis.
  • Mould spores: Mould grows in damp areas like bathrooms, kitchens, basements, and areas with water damage. Inhalation of mould spores can provoke allergic reactions in some people.
  • Cockroach droppings: Cockroach allergens present in their saliva, faeces, and body parts can trigger allergic rhinitis, particularly in urban areas with high cockroach populations.
  • Air pollution: While not an allergen in itself, exposure to pollutants like vehicle exhaust, industrial emissions, and cigarette smoke can exacerbate allergic rhinitis symptoms and increase sensitivity to other allergens.
  • Occupational allergens: Certain work environments, such as those involving exposure to chemicals, dust, fumes, or animal proteins, can trigger allergic rhinitis in some individuals.

Pinpointing which allergens are causing a person’s symptoms can significantly improve their quality of life. Avoidance measures, such as minimising exposure to triggers, can help alleviate symptoms, allowing individuals to lead more comfortable and productive lives.

Pollens and moulds in the garden

Pollens and moulds in the garden

Total avoidance by staying indoors is not a realistic option, but this factsheet will guide you on how you can reduce contact with allergens in the garden.

Pet allergy

Pet allergy

It is commonly thought that animal hair is responsible for the allergic symptoms. However, pet allergy is caused by the protein in a pet’s saliva, urine or dander (shed skin particles). This protein is present in all animals – e.g.rabbits, rodents, birds – not just cats and dogs.

House dust mites

House dust mites

House Dust Mites are one of the most common triggers for people living with allergic rhinitis and asthma. They can be found in every home, and a sensitivity to house dust mites can also aggravate atopic eczema and cross-react with how the body responds to certain foods.

Mould allergy

Mould allergy

Mould produces airborne spores which are microscopic in size. When breathed in, they can irritate the airways and cause a respiratory reaction. Mould spores can particularly affect those with respiratory allergy and exacerbate conditions such as asthma or allergic rhinitis.

Birch pollen and allergies

Birch pollen and allergies

The birch tree is one of several species of trees that produce pollen in spring in the UK. The sliver birch is considered to be the most allergenic of these species with an estimated 25% of the population in the UK suffering allergy related symptoms.

Diagnosing and testing for hay fever

Allergy testing is not always required for hay fever because the triggers can be easily identified from the history of when and where symptoms occur. However, it is needed if the trigger is not obvious or if exact identification is needed for treatment such as immunotherapy. Skin prick tests or blood tests (specific IgE to the allergen to be tested) are the correct tests.

Speak to your GP or allergist about allergy testing, and based on your clinical history and symptoms, they can recommend the most suitable allergy testing methods available.

Skin Prick Test

This common method involves placing small amounts of allergens on the skin’s surface and pricking or scratching the skin. The reaction, if any, indicates potential allergens causing your hay fever.

Blood Tests (RAST or Specific IgE)

These tests analyse blood samples for specific antibodies produced in response to allergens. They provide a comprehensive overview of potential allergens triggering your hay fever symptoms.

Speak to your GP or allergist about allergy testing. Based on your clinical history and symptoms, they can recommend the most suitable allergy testing methods available.

If you are looking for help, advice or information, you can also call our Helpline on 01322 619898. They can advise on your nearest NHS allergy clinic or consultant. Alternatively, you can email your enquiry to info@allergyuk.org or use the web chat service to talk directly to one of our advisors.

Treatments for hay fever

Management of hay fever typically involves avoiding triggers when possible and using medications such as antihistamines, decongestants, nasal corticosteroids, and immunotherapy in severe cases.

Identifying the differences between seasonal and perennial allergic rhinitis is crucial for effective management. For seasonal allergies, strategies such as avoiding outdoor allergens during peak seasons, using over-the-counter antihistamines, and nasal sprays can help alleviate symptoms. Perennial allergic rhinitis may require measures such as improving indoor air quality, frequent cleaning, using air purifiers and other suitable appliances to help minimise exposure to indoor allergens.

Antihistamines

Antihistamines are medicines often used to relieve symptoms of allergies, such as hay fever, urticaria, conjunctivitis and reactions to insect bites or stings.

Hay fever tablets are also sometimes used to prevent motion sickness and as a short-term treatment for insomnia. Most antihistamines can be bought from pharmacies and shops, but some are only available on prescription.

There are many types of antihistamines. They’re usually divided into 2 main groups:

  • Drowsy antihistamines that make you feel sleepy, such as chlorphenamine (Piriton), cinnarizine, diphenhydramine, hydroxyzine and promethazine.
  • Non-drowsy antihistamines are less likely to make you feel sleepy, such as acrivastine, cetirizine, fexofenadine and loratadine.

They also come in several different forms – including tablets, capsules, liquids, syrups, creams, lotions, gels, eye drops and nasal sprays. Non-drowsy antihistamines are generally the best option, as they’re less likely to make you feel sleepy. But types that make you feel sleepy may be better if your symptoms stop you from sleeping.

Ask a pharmacist for advice if you’re unsure which medicine to try, as not all antihistamines are suitable for everyone.

Nasal sprays

When allergies strike, nasal sprays can help. There are many different types, and most work faster than tablets. You can buy them over the counter at most supermarkets and pharmacies, or your doctor can prescribe one to relieve a stuffy or runny nose.

Many people don’t realise that using your nasal spray incorrectly can reduce its effectiveness. You can download our handy how to guide to help promote correct use.

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy, often referred to as desensitisation, is a unique treatment for allergic diseases. It is a well-established treatment reserved for certain severe allergies, such as when someone has had a serious allergic reaction to wasp or bee venom or severe allergic rhinitis that has not been previously controlled by any of the anti-allergy medications tried.

Immunotherapy usually involves the administration of increasing doses of allergen extracts over a period of time, given to patients by injection or drops/tablets under the tongue (sublingual).

Food allergen desensitisation aims to reduce reactivity to the allergen and is done under very controlled medical conditions (currently only available privately), but newer approaches to administration (such as by a skin patch that is worn and replaced) may become available in the future. These types of approaches to food desensitisation are very new and not widely available yet, but it is something to provide hope for in those at risk of severe food allergic reactions.

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy, often referred to as desensitisation, is a unique treatment for allergic diseases. If you have tried mainstream preventive treatment approaches and still have very severe symptoms, then you may be a candidate for pollen immunotherapy.

Frequently asked questions about allergy medications

Frequently asked questions about allergy medications

This factsheet offers guidance on frequently asked questions about allergy medications including information on taking antihistamines whilst pregnant, nasal sprays, higher doses of antihistamine, alternative medications and where to find help if you are unsure on how to use your allergy medications.

How to use your nasal spray

How to use your nasal spray

Often individuals fail to correctly use their nasal spray experience reduced effectiveness in soothing their hay fever symptoms. Whether due to incorrect dosage, improper technique, or inconsistent use, not adhering to the recommended application can result in a lessened impact on symptom relief.

Does hay fever affect your quality of life?

Does hay fever affect your quality of life?

If your hay fever (allergic rhinitis) is causing you misery, and you’re not seeing improvements in your symptoms despite regular treatment with antihistamine tablets and /or nasal steroid sprays as prescribed by your general practitioner, then you could benefit from allergen immunotherapy.

How do I manage my hay fever symptoms?

Managing your hay fever involves a combination of identifying triggers, implementing preventive measures, and utilising appropriate medications or treatments. By adopting proactive strategies and seeking professional guidance from a healthcare professional, you can effectively minimise the burden of hay fever and regain control over your quality of life. 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.

Pollen calendar

A pollen calendar is a useful tool that tracks the presence and concentration of various types of pollen in the air throughout the year. It typically displays the expected periods of increased pollen levels for specific allergenic plants or trees. By knowing the typical peak seasons for specific pollen types, individuals can anticipate and prepare for periods when their allergy symptoms might worsen.

Using a pollen calendar can help in planning medication usage, for instance, individuals can start taking preventive medications or adjusting treatment strategies before the onset of high pollen seasons.

Download our pollen calendar

Allergic rhinitis and asthma

Understanding the link between allergic rhinitis and asthma is important, as both conditions often coexist and can exacerbate each other’s symptoms. Managing both allergic rhinitis and asthma is essential for overall health and improved quality of life.

Allergic rhinitis and asthma share a strong connection, often referred to as the ‘united airway disease.’ Individuals with allergic rhinitis are at a higher risk of developing asthma, and those with asthma commonly experience allergic rhinitis symptoms. The inflammation caused by allergens in the nasal passages of allergic rhinitis can extend to the lower airways, potentially triggering or worsening asthma symptoms.

Seeking guidance from healthcare professionals for an integrated treatment plan targeting both conditions is key to effective management.

Asthma vs hay fever

Asthma vs hay fever

Managing allergic rhinitis can help reduce the frequency and severity of asthma exacerbations. Controlling allergic triggers in the upper airways can contribute to better control of asthma symptoms.

Managing your symptoms during a high pollen count

Managing your symptoms during a high pollen count

The weather plays a significant role in the production and dispersion of pollen. The amount of daylight is crucial to pollen production. If the weather is warm, gentle to moderate breeze and plenty of daylight then the pollen count will be higher. If there is a cold or cloudy spell then the plants and trees will produce less pollen.

How face masks can limit exposure to pollen

How face masks can limit exposure to pollen

Wearing face masks can play a significant role in reducing exposure to pollen, providing a practical solution for individuals prone to hay fever or allergic rhinitis triggered by pollen. When combined with other preventive measures during peak pollen hours, wearing face masks becomes an integral part of managing hay fever.

Allergy UK approved products

Allergy UK approved products

Avoidance of allergy triggers is an important factor in managing an allergy. For people living with an allergy there is a significant benefit in choosing products which will help them to manage their condition. Product such as air filters, washing machines and specially formulated cleaning products can all play their part.

Four Seasons: Managing your hay Fever & asthma

Four Seasons: Managing your hay Fever & asthma

This leaflet has been produced to help you better understand the relationship between allergens and allergic rhinitis and the impact that they can have on your asthma. Packed full of useful information about asthma and allergic rhinitis with useful tips on minimising your exposure to allergens.

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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.

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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