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Understanding Hay Fever

  • Private GP Services
  • Medically Reviewed By: Dr Farzad Entikabi MB BS MSc MRCS(Eng) MRCGP DFSRH
Understanding Hay fever. What is hay fever. Symptoms, causes and treatment. Prime Health Partners

What is hay fever?

Hay fever, also known as seasonal rhinitis, is a prevalent allergic reaction that occurs during specific times of the year. It shares symptoms with perennial (year-round) allergic rhinitis but is triggered by pollen from grass, trees, and weeds.

It is usually the worst between late March and September, especially when it’s warm, humid and windy. This is when the pollen count is at its highest.

This blog post aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of hay fever, its symptoms, causes, and strategies to manage this common condition that affects both adults and children.

What are the symptoms of hay fever?

Hay fever is an allergic reaction characterised by inflammation of the nasal passages, leading to symptoms such as

  • Sneezing, blocked/runny nose
  • Itchy eyes/ throat
  • Watering, red eyes (allergic conjunctivitis)
  • Headaches and 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 occur due to the body’s immune system overreacting to pollen from plants and may become much more severe when the pollen count is high.

What causes hay fever?

The primary cause is an allergic reaction to pollen from grass, trees, and weeds.

When people with hay fever come into contact with these pollens, their immune system perceives them as harmful and releases chemicals such as histamines, triggering the allergic response.

The exact triggers vary depending on the individual and the specific allergens they are sensitive to.


Antihistamines are medicines often used to relieve symptoms of allergies, such as hay fever. Most antihistamines can be bought from pharmacies and shops, but some are only available on prescription.

Types of antihistamines for hay fever

There are many types of antihistamines, usually divided into 2 groups:

  • Antihistamines, hay fever tablets, 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. These are acrivastine, cetirizine, fexofenadine and loratadine.

They also come in several different forms;  tablets, capsules, liquids, syrups, creams, lotions, gels, eyedrops 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 sleeping.

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

How to use a nasal spray

Nasal sprays can help fight allergies. There are many different types, and most work much faster than pills. Steroid nasal sprays work better for longer-term use to manage hay fever and you should be cautious about using decongestant sprays for longer than 1 week as they can make symptoms worse due to the phenomenon of the ‘rebound effect‘. You can buy some nasal sprays over the counter at most supermarkets and pharmacies, or your doctor can prescribe specific sprays for you 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 Allergy UK’s handy how to guide to help promote correct use.

Management and Prevention

While hay fever symptoms can be bothersome, several strategies can help manage and reduce their impact


  • put Vaseline around your nostrils to trap pollen

  • wear wraparound sunglasses to stop pollen from getting into your eyes

  • shower and change your clothes after you have been outside to wash pollen off

  • wash your hands and face regularly
  • stay indoors whenever possible

  • keep windows and doors shut as much as possible

  • vacuum regularly and dust with a damp cloth

  • buy a pollen filter for the air vents in your car and a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter

  • try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people if you have a high temperature or you do not feel well enough to do your normal activities


  • do not cut grass and try to avoid walking on grass
  • do not spend too much time outside, a hard ask in the lovely spring/summer months!

  • do not keep fresh flowers in the house

  • do not smoke or be around smoke – it makes your symptoms worse

  • do not dry clothes outside – they can catch pollen

  • do not let pets into the house if possible – they can carry pollen indoors

Need help?

Book a GP appointment online or pop into one of our pharmacies Green Light, Swiss Cottage or Hodgetts Pharmacy, St Johns Wood.

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