Hay Fever - Definitive Guide

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What is hay fever?

Hay fever is a type of allergy that is triggered by pollen (a fine powder produced by plants and flowers). It is also known as seasonal allergic rhinitis. 

It most commonly affects people in late March and early September when pollen levels are highest, but this varies depending on which type of pollen the allergy is sensitive to. Symptoms of hay fever tend to be worse when the weather is warm, windy, and humid. 

Unlike a cold that normally lasts a week or two, hay fever symptoms can continue for several weeks or months. 

An allergy occurs when your immune system perceives a harmless substance like pollen as a threat and releases a chemical called histamine.   

Histamine triggers inflammation in the body and symptoms of hay fever. 

Hay fever is a very common allergy and affects around 16 million (one in four) people in the UK. Though it isn’t dangerous, hay fever can impact your quality of life and make you feel unwell.

Can you develop hay fever?

Hay fever can develop at any age, though it normally starts in early childhood, between the ages of 2 and 5 years. Symptoms are often worse in late childhood and adolescence. 

Around 10-20% of people with hay fever outgrow the condition as they get older. Hay fever affects more boys than girls, but it affects men and women equally. 

Hay fever is more common in people with other allergies such as asthma, eczema, and food allergies. The reason for this is thought to be genetic so allergies often run in families. 

Symptoms of hay fever include: 

  • itchy, watery eyes
  • blocked nose
  • coughing
  • sneezing 
  • itchy mouth (especially the roof of the mouth), nose, throat, and ears


If you have asthma you may also experience a worsening of your asthma symptoms.

Medications and treatment for hay fever

There is no cure for hay fever, but it can normally be managed with medications like antihistamines. 

There are also some things you can do yourself to minimise symptoms of hay fever.

These include: 

  • staying inside as much as possible when the pollen count is high 
  • keeping doors and windows closed
  • vacuuming and damp-dusting regularly
  • applying Vaseline around your nostrils to help trap pollen spores
  • wearing wraparound sunglasses can reduce the amount of pollen that comes into contact with your eyes
  • changing your clothes and taking a shower when you have been outside can help to remove any pollen on your clothes or body
  • not keeping fresh flowers in the house
  • avoiding cutting the grass or walking on the grass
  • using a pollen filter in your car and vacuum cleaner.
  • not hanging clothes outside to dry.


Antihistamines work by blocking the action of histamine and reducing allergy symptoms. They are available as tablets, eye drops, and nasal sprays. You can take antihistamines to treat hay fever symptoms after they start, or as a preventative measure when hay fever symptoms are likely. 

Antihistamines are available over the counter from supermarkets or pharmacies.  If your allergies are severe and not responding to over-the-counter antihistamines, your GP may prescribe a stronger version.  

Some antihistamines can cause drowsiness. Non-drowsy antihistamines are less likely to make you feel sleepy but may still do so. Don’t drive, operate machinery, or perform any tasks that need you to be alert if you feel drowsy after taking antihistamines.


Corticosteroids are medications that reduce inflammation in the body. Hay fever can cause the inside of your nose to become inflamed. Your GP may prescribe corticosteroid nasal sprays or drops to reduce inflammation and help with symptoms of hay fever if: 

  • you have a stuffy nose that isn’t helped by antihistamines
  • you are pregnant or breastfeeding

In some cases, if you need quick relief from hay fever symptoms for a short period of time, such as for an important event, your GP may prescribe corticosteroid tablets for a short period. Corticosteroids are effective in relieving hay fever symptoms but should not be taken for long periods as they can cause side effects.

Nasal decongestants

These work by reducing swelling in the blood vessels in your nose making breathing easier. Some decongestants also contain an antihistamine which can help to relieve other allergy symptoms. Nasal decongestants should not be used for more than 7 days as they can dry and irritate your nasal passages, making symptoms of congestion worse. You can buy nasal decongestants over the counter. Your pharmacist can recommend one.


Eyedrops for hay fever reduce symptoms that affect the eyes like redness, watering, and itching. They work by reducing inflammation in the eyes. You can buy eye drops over the counter from pharmacies.


Rarely, if standard hay fever treatments don’t work, you may be referred for immunotherapy treatment. This is a long-term treatment that aims to desensitise your body by gradually exposing you to small amounts of the allergen over a period of time. You may be given the allergen by: 

  • an injection into your skin (systemic injection immunotherapy or SIT)
  • a tablet that dissolves under your tongue (sublingual immunotherapy or SLIT) 

It normally takes about 3 years of immunotherapy to achieve the full effect.

Get help from an online doctor

An online doctor can help with hay fever by asking about your symptoms and providing a diagnosis and treatment. Sometimes hay fever can have similar symptoms to other conditions like the common cold, or other types of allergies that may require different treatment. 

An online doctor can advise you on reducing and managing your symptoms as well as prescribing or recommending a suitable treatment. If your symptoms are severe, they may refer you to see a specialist for further investigations and treatment. 

It’s easy to book an appointment with an NHS-trained GP at Medicspot. Simply click the link and select an appointment at a time and day that suits you. Appointments are often available the same day.

Get help from a pharmacist

A pharmacist can help with hay fever symptoms by recommending an over-the-counter treatment like antihistamine tablets, eye drops, and nasal sprays. They can also advise you on when to see a GP. 

Find a pharmacy near you 


Hay fever is a common condition that does not usually pose a threat to health but can be troublesome and negatively affect your quality of life. Hay fever symptoms can usually be managed with a combination of medications, at-home treatments, and lifestyle changes. 

If you have symptoms of hay fever and would like to talk to a doctor, make an appointment today.


NHS: Hay fever  February 4th 2021 (Accessed November 26th 2022)

NHS Inform: Hay fever  November 21st 2022 (Accessed November 26th 2022)

Allergy UK: Hay Fever and Allergic Rhinitis  (Accessed November 26th 2022)

PubMed: Allergic Rhinitis June 5th 2022 (Accessed November 26th 2022)

National Institute of Health and Care Excellence: Allergic rhinitis August 2021  (Accessed November 26th 2022)

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