For many people, hay fever season means streaming eyes, endless sneezing, a persistent tickle at the back of the throat and never having enough tissues.
These symptoms are caused by an allergy to plant pollen, with grass pollen being the most common cause.
While there’s no cure for hay fever (allergic rhinitis), treatments are available to relieve your symptoms, and many of these are available from a pharmacist.
However, there are also ways to relieve or minimise your symptoms at home.
Hay fever treatment: How to ease symptoms yourself
One way to relieve hay fever symptoms is to minimise your exposure to pollen when the pollen count is high.
To do this, it can help to stay indoors as much as possible and keep the windows closed. If you do go outside, remember to change and wash your clothes and take a shower afterwards to remove any pollen in your hair or on clothing.
You could also apply a little petroleum jelly to the inside of your nostrils as this can help to trap pollen and reduce sneezing.
While these actions may help to keep symptoms at bay, you may find you need additional treatments from a pharmacist.
Best treatments for hay fever
Depending on your symptoms, a pharmacist may recommend one of the following.
Antihistamines block the actions of a chemical called histamine in the body.
Histamine is produced when your immune system sees a threat inside the body, such as an infection. But if you’re allergic to something, like grass, your body mistakenly thinks this is harmful and produces histamine.
This causes blood vessels to widen and the skin to become inflamed and swollen -- resulting in symptoms such as watery and itchy eyes, sneezing and a runny nose.
There are different types of antihistamines you can try, including many options that don’t cause drowsiness. But check with the pharmacist before buying them.
They are available in tablet form, as eye drops or nasal spray, and can be useful if you have mild symptoms that fluctuate from day to day.
You can take antihistamines to help reduce symptoms you already have, but if you know when in the year you’re affected by hay fever, you can take them as a precaution, to help prevent symptoms.
If you try antihistamines and they have little effect, ask the pharmacist for other options.
When you have an allergic reaction to pollen in the environment, the inside of your nose becomes inflamed, giving you a blocked, itchy or runny nose. It can also cause sneezing.
Using a corticosteroid (steroid) nasal spray can reduce this inflammation and relieve symptoms, but it’s important to use the nasal spray correctly for it to be effective. To use a nasal spray, you should:
- Blow your nose.
- Shake the nasal spray bottle and then remove the cap.
- Tilt your head forwards slightly.
- Place the nozzle inside your nostril, pointing it away from the centre.
- Press the button or pump to release the fluid.
- Breathe in through your nose.
- Remove the nozzle from your nostril and breathe out through your mouth.
- Repeat in the other nostril.
Nasal sprays are used in different ways depending on the brand, so always read the instructions or check with a pharmacist if you’re not sure.
Eye drops can relieve symptoms of red, itchy or watery eyes. They usually contain antihistamine which can reduce swelling around the eyes.
There are different types of eye drops available, and some can be used alongside other treatments for hay fever, so always check with a pharmacist to see what’s best.
What to ask a pharmacist
If you use 1 or more of the treatments listed above, it’s worth talking to a pharmacist about any potential side effects, how to use them properly and how long you should use them for.
When to see a doctor for hay fever
If your symptoms get worse or don’t respond to the treatments above, you should see a doctor. They may prescribe alternative antihistamines or steroids, or refer you for immunotherapy treatment or an allergy test.
Immunotherapy involves giving you increasing doses of the substance you’re allergic to help build immunity to it. But this can take a long time to work, usually months and occasionally years.