Learn about what hayfever is, how it's triggered and the symptoms of hayfever in our handy guide.

What Is Hay Fever

What is Hay fever?

Hayfever ('seasonal allergic rhinitis') affects over 20-25% of the UK population. It is caused mostly by an allergy to grass, tree or hay pollens, which affects the nose, sinus, throat and eyes, however an increasing problem is all-year-round symptoms from unidentified allergies (allergic rhinitis). Hayfever usually occurs during the spring and summer months, but depends on which pollens are to blame. From May to July grass (most common cause in UK) and flower pollen are the most common cause of hayfever whereas, during spring, from March to May, tree pollens are the most common. Hayfever in the autumn months tends to be caused by weeds such as nettles and docks, late flowering plants, and mould spores.

Hayfever symptoms can be similar to a cold, and include a runny nose, watery eyes and repeated sneezing attacks. Hayfever is associated with a family history of asthma or eczema and usually begins in the early teens. Hayfever symptoms may vary from year to year, depending on the weather conditions and pollen count. Increasingly people are experiencing symptoms for more of the year and indeed allergic rhinitis is becoming a year-round problem.



WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF HAYFEVER?

Symptoms include:

  • runny or blocked nose
  • frequent sneezing
  • itchy or watery eyes
  • itchy throat, mouth, nose and ears
  • loss of smell
  • face pain (caused by blocked sinuses)
  • fatigue and lack of sleep
  • headaches
  • worsening of asthma
  • lack of concentration.
Symptoms tend to be related to the pollen count, which tends to be highest in the early morning and after 4pm, when many people would like to enjoy the good weather after work or at weekends. Hayfever can therefore be quite restrictive for many people. Pollution, such as cigarette smoke and car exhaust fumes, can also make allergies such as hayfever worse. without the use of medication.

Hay Fever Treatment

How To Treat Hay Fever


ANTIHISTAMINES

These tablets are the most popular way of treating hayfever. When someone with hayfever comes in to contact with pollen, their body incorrectly recognises it as a dangerous substance and tries to protect the body through a process of inflammation (a blocked nose will prevent more pollen getting in). This 'protective' process is initiated by their immune cells producing a local hormone-like substance called 'Histamine'. It is this Histamine, which causes the immediate symptoms. Antihistamine drugs usually work by preventing histamine doing its job. Whilst this can work well, there are a few limitations. First the drugs can have side effects, the most marked one being drowsiness. This may be helpful with sleep disturbance, but not at work. Some newer drugs cause less sedation, but the use of heavy machinery is still not advised. Secondly, not all the symptoms of Hayfever are mediated by histamine, as its effects are only apparent in the first hour or so after pollen exposure - other substances take over which are not affected by antihistamines.



STEROIDS

Most commonly these are provided as nasal sprays, as tablets will have too many dangerous side effects. Steroids act against some of the other mediators of inflammation, which take over from histamine. It can be very effective in reducing the lining and inflammation in the nose. The main problem with steroids is that it takes at least 24 hours to before it has any effect and usually takes several weeks to have a real impact on a blocked nose.



EYE DROPS

There are usually 2 types of eye drops used for hayfever. One type is a simple lubricant to help with dry eyes. The second type is a drug, which stabilises the immune cells, to prevent histamine being released. The problem with this is that it will only help with eye symptoms and it will have little effect once the symptoms have started.



DESENSITISATION TREATMENT

There have been several types of treatment, which are mostly reserved for people with severe and sometimes life-threatening allergies. These complex medical treatments involve identifying the specific type of pollen causing the allergy and then exposing the patient to it in a controlled way in order to desensitise them. It is not suitable for most people and carries risks.