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8th June, 20203 min read

Hay fever: What are the signs and symptoms?

Medical reviewer:Healthily's medical team
Author:Georgina Newman
Last reviewed: 09/05/2020
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.

Hay fever is the name given to cold-like symptoms caused by an allergic reaction to plant pollen.

Also known as seasonal allergic rhinitis, it’s a common condition, affecting between 10 to 40 % of the global population. But it’s more prevalent in some regions of the world, such as North America and Oceania.

Pollen from grass appears to affect most people, but tree and weed pollen can also cause the symptoms associated with hay fever.

Despite its name, it doesn’t mean you’re allergic to hay or develop a fever.

Common hay fever symptoms

The main symptoms include:

  • itchy, red or watery eyes
  • regular sneezing
  • a runny or blocked nose
  • itchy throat

Other symptoms include:

  • having an itchy mouth or inner ears
  • a headache or aches around your forehead
  • earache
  • tiredness
  • coughing

If you have asthma you may also have symptoms of a tight chest, wheezing or shortness of breath - hay fever can make asthma symptoms worse.

What causes hay fever?

The symptoms of hay fever are caused by a reaction to pollen that’s carried in the air at certain times of the year - plants only scatter pollen during their growing season, when the weather is dry.

If you’re allergic to pollen and come into contact with it, your immune system releases a chemical called histamine that causes the symptoms listed above.

The higher the pollen count (the more pollen that’s in the air), the more severe your symptoms are likely to be.

How do you know you have hay fever?

Some of the symptoms of hay fever are similar to that of a cold, but hay fever tends to last for weeks or months of the year - while a cold will generally clear up within 2 weeks.

If you do have hay fever, symptoms will be worse when the weather is hot, humid or windy and during the spring to summer season as this is when the pollen count is highest.

Hay fever usually starts in childhood and occurs around the same time each year.

If you think you have hay fever, it’s worth having an allergy test so you know what type of pollen triggers it, and the months of the year you’re likely to be affected by symptoms. This will help you take steps to manage it effectively.

Hay fever treatment

There’s no cure for hay fever, and it’s not easy to avoid pollen, but you can control symptoms with non-prescription medication from a pharmacist.

Treatments are available in different forms, and include:

  • nasal sprays to help with sneezing
  • eye drops for itchy eyes
  • antihistamine drops or tablets

Don’t let hay fever ruin your summer - instead, find tips on how to manage it and what treatments may work best for you.

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