Hay fever survival guide

We look at what hay fever is, what its symptoms are and what causes it, before looking at some ways to help you manage your hay fever. 

What is hay fever?

Hay fever (also called allergic rhinitis) is an allergic reaction in the nose to environmental allergens like animal hair, dust, pollen and mould. Although common in spring, when hay fever triggers like pollen are widespread, hay fever can occur any time of year.  

What causes hay fever?

Hay fever is caused by an allergic reaction to substances in the air, like pollen. 

If you have hay fever, your immune system identifies harmless substances like pollen for a dangerous one and your body produces antibodies to fight it. These antibodies trigger your immune system to release chemicals like histamines when you next inhale substances that you are allergic to.  

Histamines cause you to sneeze, have a runny nose or itch in an attempt to rid the body of any allergens. 

Pollens from grass and trees, animal hair, dust mites and mould can all be hay fever triggers and it is your body’s reaction to these substances which is what causes hay fever. 

Hay fever symptoms

Hay fever symptoms can be similar to the common cold, and it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between the two. 

Common hay fever symptoms may include: 

  • Runny nose 
  • Nasal congestion
  • Watery, itchy or red eyes 
  • Coughing 
  • Sneezing 
  • Itch in the nose, throat or mouth 
  • Swollen eyes 
  • Fatigue 
  • Itchy skin 
  • Sinus pain or pressure 

Those experiencing severe hay fever may suffer from a lack of sleep and can suffer from poor concentration. 

Long-term hay fever can cause airways to become inflamed or blocked, resulting in permanent nasal stuffiness, decreased sense of smell, snoring, irritability and vulnerability to sinusitis and infections. 

Hay fever can affect any one at any age, though most people experience symptoms before they are 20. 

You may be more at risk of hay fever if you have: 

  • Eczema
  • Family members who have allergies
  • Asthma or other allergies
  • A work place or home where you are exposed to allergens on a regular basis
  • A mother who smoked before you turned one 
Woman with hay fever sneezing in to a tissue

Managing hay fever

Some ways to manage hay fever include: 

  • In spring time, stay inside on windy days or immediately after thunderstorms
  • Check the pollen count online and plan to stay indoors on days with a high pollen count 
  • Wear glasses or sunglasses to protect your eyes from pollen
  • Use dust mite covers for pillows or mattresses 
  • Wash sheets and blankets frequently in hot water
  • Wash your hands after touching animal

Hay fever symptoms can worsen due to exposure to other irritants. Try to avoid strong odours, perfumes, wood smoke, tobacco smoke, aerosol sprays and air pollution.

There is no cure for hay fever, but there are treatment options available to help manage the symptoms. Over the counter medications may be enough of your symptoms aren't too severe, otherwise your doctor may prescribe medicine. 


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