17th May, 20226 min read

Fact or fiction? 9 hay fever myths busted

Medical reviewer:
Dr Ann Nainan
Dr Ann Nainan
Dr Adiele Hoffman
Dr Adiele Hoffman
Author:
 Christina Quaine
Christina Quaine
Last reviewed: 11/05/2022
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

Can a thunderstorm wash away your hay fever symptoms? Will eating honey boost your immunity to pollen? And can you ever ‘grow out’ of hay fever?

With seasonal allergy season underway, we explore 9 common hay fever myths, separating the facts from fiction to help you manage the condition effectively.

1. Hay fever isn’t a serious condition

While you’re very unlikely to die from hay fever, it’s linked with other health conditions that can be more serious. Figures show that more than 40% of people with nasal allergies like hay fever also have asthma – and if you have hay fever, your risk for developing asthma is higher.

Hay fever can also have a real impact on your quality of life. Up to 57% of people with hay fever have disturbed sleep, which can have a knock-on effect during the day: think extreme tiredness and problems concentrating. Studies have even found that having hay fever can affect children’s exam performance.

So the key is to take your hay fever medication and do what you can to prevent and manage your symptoms. Learn more in our complete guide to hay fever.

2. Rain reduces the pollen count

This depends on the type of rain (sorry to sound like a train operator). It’s true that rain washes pollen from the air, which keeps the pollen count lower – but not all showers are created equal when it comes to hay fever.

  • if it rains early and continues throughout the day, it’s likely to keep the pollen count low. But a drizzly afternoon has less of an impact, so don’t ditch your antihistamines
  • if sunny days follow rain, the pollen count can increase because the combination of sunshine and water helps plants grow and release pollen
  • thunderstorms may bring another problem. It’s thought that the air flow during a storm can pull pollen into the clouds and storm system, where it gets broken into smaller particles. These then come down with the rain and can be inhaled more deeply as they are smaller, which can cause breathing problems

Woman standing in the rain

3. Your garden is causing your hay fever

Not necessarily. While grass pollen is by far the most common hay fever trigger in the UK, your symptoms aren’t necessarily being set off by your garden lawn – it may be the local park you need to steer clear of instead.

Timothy grass is 1 of the main hay fever culprits in the UK, where it’s often found in parks and on the side of roads (rather than gardens). It’s common in the US, too.

Grass pollens are released when the grass flowers. So if you find that the grass in your garden brings on streaming eyes and sneezing, mow it regularly to get rid of the flowering – and make sure not to leave the cuttings on the lawn.

4. Pollution makes hay fever worse

That’s right. There’s evidence that pollutants in the air can affect your ability to manage your hay fever symptoms, as they can trigger symptoms such as a cough or wheezing.

The latest science also shows that if you live in the city, you’re more likely to have a respiratory allergy such as hay fever than someone living in the countryside, because of the various ways pollutants interact with pollen.

If you know your symptoms are triggered by pollutants, keep an eye on daily air pollution levels where you live (you can check them at UK AIR or AirNow) and always take your hay fever medication when levels are high.

When you know pollution is higher it may also help to avoid outdoor exercise, steer clear of busy roads and travel around rush hours.

5. Hay fever is a spring and summer thing

Not necessarily. While grass pollen is the trigger for most people with hay fever – running from around May to July in the UK and northern U.S, and throughout the year in the south – tree pollen can also be to blame. Tree pollen season can start in March or even as early January (yes, really) for birch trees in the UK, or from March to May in the U.S, with some trees in the south producing pollen as early as January.

Weed pollen can also cause hay fever, and this season runs from June to September in the UK. In the U.S. weed pollen comes out in the late summer and autumn.

While we’re here, let’s clear something else up – hay fever isn’t an allergy to hay. The term ‘hay fever’ came about in the 19th century, when it was thought that symptoms were linked to new hay in the summer months.

2 people sat on the grass at night

6. Hay fever is worse during the day

This is generally true. Pollen levels are highest at the start of the day, when they rise as air warms up, and peak again at the end of the day, as air cools down.

However, research shows that nighttime isn’t risk-free, and certain types of pollen can be more common after dark – a 2016 study found that ragweed pollen, which travels over loong distances, is higher at night than during the day.

7. Head to the seaside to improve symptoms

This could work: sea breezes blow pollen inland, so spending time at the coast could help your hay fever symptoms.

But that’s not to say that there’s no pollen at the beach. It’s still a good idea to take your hay fever medication, and stay clued up about which times of the day the pollen count is highest.

8. Eat honey to build immunity to pollen

Unfortunately, this is fiction. Yes, bees gather pollen from flowers, but this isn’t the same pollen that’s the cause of most allergies – if you have hay fever, it’s grass, tree and/or weed pollen that usually causes your symptoms.

So while a drizzle of honey on your yoghurt is delicious – and can come with other benefits – it won’t help with your hay fever symptoms.

9. You’ll grow out of hay fever

This varies from person to person. Hay fever usually first appears when you’re a child or teenager. You might find your symptoms improve with age – many people do, and for a lucky 10% to 20% of people, symptoms disappear completely.

In a study of Swedish adults with hay fever, the oldest group in the study who were in their 50s were most likely to see their hay fever vanish. The study also found that you’re less likely to grow out of hay fever if you also have asthma.

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