Health advice
Hay fever

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What is hay fever? 

Hay fever is an allergy to plant pollens that cause a range of symptoms. Roughly 25% of adults in the UK live with the condition.1

Hay fever is often seasonal, so it gets worse during some parts of the year, known as ‘hay fever season’. Hay fever is often easy to treat with medication and lifestyle changes.

However, people with severe symptoms may find the allergy affects their work, family and social lives. There is support available to help manage these symptoms. 

What are the symptoms of hay fever? 

Hay fever can cause a range of symptoms. 

Some of the most common are: 

  • sneezing 
  • an itchy nose 
  • a runny or blocked nose 
  • pain in your sinuses 
  • headaches.2, 3

Having hay fever can be very uncomfortable and can make it difficult to sleep. Losing sleep can make your overall health worse, so it’s important to get it under control. A pharmacist can help you find medications to help you sleep. Having hay fever can also worsen your asthma symptoms.3

When does hay fever season start and end? 

Hay fever season usually starts in late March and ends in September. But there are different seasons for when tree pollen, weed pollen and grass pollen allergies are likely to be at their worst.4

Tree pollen season usually lasts from late March to the middle of May. Grass pollen season lasts from the middle of May until July, while weed pollen lasts from the end of June until September.4

When the season starts and ends can vary based on temperatures and rainfall that year. It can also be worse some days than others depending on the weather.4 Warm, windy or humid weather often makes hay fever symptoms worse.

What causes hay fever? 

Hay fever is caused by an allergy to tree pollen, weed pollen or grass pollen in your environment. It’s not clear exactly why some people develop this allergy.  

There is a genetic element to hay fever. So if one of your parents has hay fever, you are more likely to develop it.5

However, hay fever is becoming more common and researchers are still trying to understand why. Air pollution and cigarette smoke in your childhood environment can make you more likely to get hay fever later on.6

Are there different types of hay fever? 

Allergic rhinitis is sometimes sorted into different categories. If you’re allergic to things like pollen and grass, this is known as seasonal allergic rhinitis, or hay fever. But there are other types of allergic rhinitis too. 

Some people find they are allergic to dust mites in their home, or dander from pets. This is sometimes called ‘perennial’ allergic rhinitis because it can happen year-round.7

Other people’s allergic rhinitis is triggered by allergies to things in their work environment, like flour in a bakery or animals in a laboratory. This is called occupational allergic rhinitis.7

Are there other conditions linked to hay fever? 

People with hay fever are more likely to have asthma and eczema. This group of three conditions is sometimes called the ‘atopic triad’. There is evidence to suggest that if you have eczema as a young child, you’re more likely to develop asthma and hay fever as you get older.8

Some people with hay fever also have allergic conjunctivitis along with their hay fever symptoms.9 This is when your eyes become red, itchy and sore. You can help manage discomfort by getting eye drops from a pharmacist and putting a flannel soaked with cold, clean water over your eyelids.  

What are the treatments for hay fever? 

A pharmacist can help you find treatments for your hay fever. Antihistamines are often used to help with hay fever symptoms. You can get antihistamines for hay fever as either nasal sprays or tablets.10

If you need more support, you should talk to your GP. They may be able to prescribe you steroid treatments which reduce inflammation and can ease your hay fever symptoms.

If this does not work, your GP may be able to refer you to a specialist for immunotherapy.3 This is when you are exposed to a small amount of what you’re allergic to over time, to help your immune system get used to the allergen.

How else can I help manage my hay fever? 

If the pollen count is high, it can make your hay fever worse. On these days, you may want to avoid spending too much time outside, walking through grass or drying clothes outside.3

If you’ve been out on a day with a high pollen count, showering and changing clothes when you get home can ease symptoms. Keeping your windows and doors shut when you’re at home can also help keep pollen out.3

When you’re outside during hay fever season, using an allergen barrier balm around your nostrils can stop pollen from getting in and causing a reaction.11

Reviewed by: Mital Thakrar

Review date: April 2023

Next review: April 2026

Where can I find further support and information?
Allergy UK

Information and support, including a helpline, for anyone with allergies. 

NHS Inform

Information and support if you live in Scotland, including advice on diet and lifestyle. 

NHS website

Information about allergies, including symptoms, living with allergies and treatments to manage allergies. 

  1. Prevalence | Background information | Allergic rhinitis | CKS | NICE. Accessed March 16, 2023. 
  2. Allergic rhinitis | Health topics A to Z | CKS | NICE. Accessed March 14, 2023. 
  3. Hay fever. Published October 23, 2017. Accessed March 14, 2023. 
  4. When is hay fever season in the UK? Met Office. Accessed March 16, 2023. 
  5. Causes | Background information | Allergic rhinitis | CKS | NICE. Accessed March 16, 2023. 
  6. Li CH, Sayeau K, Ellis AK. Air Pollution and Allergic Rhinitis: Role in Symptom Exacerbation and Strategies for Management. J Asthma Allergy. 2020;13:285-292. doi:10.2147/JAA.S237758 
  7. Definition | Background information | Allergic rhinitis | CKS | NICE. Accessed March 16, 2023. 
  8. Belgrave DCM, Simpson A, Buchan IE, Custovic A. Atopic Dermatitis and Respiratory Allergy: What is the Link. Curr Dermatol Rep. 2015;4(4):221-227. doi:10.1007/s13671-015-0121-6 
  9. Conjunctivitis. Published October 19, 2017. Accessed March 16, 2023. 
  10. Scenario: Management | Management | Allergic rhinitis | CKS | NICE. Accessed March 14, 2023.
  11. Hay Fever | Allergy UK | National Charity. Accessed March 16, 2023. 

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