Hay fever symptoms
Hay fever symptoms can affect adults and children. Hay fever is also called pollen allergy and is a common allergic reaction to pollen from grasses, trees and weeds. It occurs in some people when pollen comes into contact with your mouth, eyes, nose and throat. Hay fever symptoms can last for weeks or months at a time and can make you feel downright miserable.
We take hay fever symptoms seriously as we know what an effect they can have on the quality of your life. In this article, we’ll be discussing the tell-tale signs to look for if you think you may be experiencing hay fever symptoms. We’ll look at ways you can manage your symptoms of hay fever and the available treatment options.
Hay fever symptoms: a misleading name for those pesky sniffles
Although they’re called hay fever symptoms, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re allergic to hay. And hay fever doesn’t usually cause a fever. It’s a name that's stuck around since the early 19th century, when John Bostock, a London doctor, made the connection that the symptoms he was experiencing were caused by something that happened during the summer just around the hay harvest.
Seasonal allergic rhinitis = hay fever symptoms
Hay fever symptoms are a form of allergic rhinitis. Hay fever is sometimes referred to as seasonal allergic rhinitis as it occurs during the months when some plants release pollen. Allergic rhinitis is defined as an inflammatory condition of the lining of your nose. It means the inside of your nose becomes irritated and inflamed as your body reacts to airborne allergens. In the case of hay fever symptoms that’s pollen.
To understand hay fever, we need to take a look at pollen. Pollen is one of the most common causes of allergy. Pollen grains are very fine particles released by certain plants into the air to fertilise other plants of the same species. Just a tiny amount of pollen powder can contain several thousand pollen grains. When we breathe in pollen it can trigger hay fever symptoms in some people.
Hay fever symptoms can make you feel lousy
Hay fever symptoms can start at varying times of the year, depending on which pollen you are reacting to. Pollen is usually released from early spring, through the summer and even into the autumn. But you are more likely to experience hay fever symptoms during late spring and early summer. However, the flowering period of the different plants depends on the region and climate where you live.
If you are allergic to pollen, your immune system may react with these typical hay fever symptoms:
9 hay fever symptoms checklist
- Stuffy nose (nasal congestion)
- Runny nose, usually with clear fluid
- Itchy nose
- Itchy, red or watery eyes
- Post-nasal drip (the feeling of mucus moving down the back of your throat)
- Tight chest or wheezing
- Sinus inflammation/pain
Hay fever can involve any combination of the symptoms from the checklist, but a stuffy, runny nose and sneezing are among the most common hay fever symptoms.
Hay fever symptoms can affect your quality of life
Hay fever can cause more than the typical symptoms of sneezing, runny nose and watery eyes. For some people, hay fever symptoms can considerably interfere with everyday life. Let’s take a look at some of the most common ways hay fever symptoms can take their toll:
Hay fever symptoms and sleep
Poorly controlled hay fever symptoms can contribute to losing sleep or having disturbed periods of sleep. In turn, the lack of sleep can lead to you feeling tired and drained during the day.
Hay fever symptoms at school
Hay fever symptoms in school children and college students can be very distracting. And they can have an impact on their ability to learn and concentrate. Exams often take place during the spring and early summer months, which can be the peak pollen season. For students with hay fever, it may affect their ability to be successful in exams. Severe hay fever symptoms can lead to students having to be absent from school or college.
- Hay fever symptoms at workHay fever symptoms can impair your ability to concentrate at work and may affect your productivity and performance. Severe hay fever symptoms can be a significant cause of having to take time off from work.
Hay fever symptoms and mental health
It’s not only your physical health that can be affected by hay fever. Hay fever symptoms can also affect your emotional and mental health. Severe hay fever symptoms may contribute to depression and anxiety in some people.
What’s the difference between symptoms of a cold and hay fever symptoms?
Some people have no idea they even have hay fever symptoms. It can be easy to assume those sniffles and sneezes are caused by yet another cold. But if you suspect your symptoms might not be a cold after all, there are some typical signs you can look for:
How fast symptoms appear
A cold often develops over a
Hay fever symptoms can appear quite suddenly.
Raised temperature or fever
A cold is caused by an infection
Hay fever is very unlikely to cause a rise in your temperature.
How long the symptoms last
Usually about 1 week.
Last as long as you’re exposed to your triggers. Hay fever symptoms can last many weeks during the pollen season.
Read more about the difference between allergy and a cold.
What causes hay fever symptoms?
We need to look at the mechanics of allergy to understand the cause of hay fever symptoms.
If you have hay fever, your immune system mistakenly identifies pollen as a threat and overreacts to try to protect you. Your immune system produces antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE), which tell other cells to release certain chemicals, including histamine. And it’s those chemicals that cause the annoying hay fever symptoms.
The pollen season and hay fever symptoms
When your hay fever symptoms are triggered depends on the type of pollen you react to. Different types of pollen will be in the air at different times of the year. Trees, grasses and weeds all pollinate at varying times. The start and end of the pollen season can be affected by several different factors such as the weather and where you live.
Impact of climate change on hay fever symptoms
Climate change is having an impact on airborne allergens, particularly pollens. The timing of tree and grass pollen seasons depends on when spring temperatures break the winter. This means the duration of the pollen season is extended in some plant species. And plants have been found to produce a greater quantity of pollen under these changed conditions. All of this can, of course, impact your hay fever symptoms.
Managing hay fever symptoms
The good news is hay fever symptoms are usually manageable. These simple tips may be helpful:
Pollen calendar and pollen forecast
The timing and severity of the pollen season varies from year to year and can depend on different factors, such as the weather conditions. You may find it helpful to use a pollen and weather forecast and a pollen calendar. For example, airborne pollen spreads easily on dry, windy days and less so on rainy days. Checking the pollen forecast means you can plan when you go out around when the level of pollen is lower. An up to date pollen calendar can show you when the main allergenic plants, such as trees, weeds and grass are expected to be in season. If you know which type of pollen you’re affected by a pollen calendar can help you identify which part of the season is likely to be the worst for you. That way, you can take steps to manage your allergy even before the season starts.
We have our own allergy companion app, klarify, which can help you keep track of your hay fever symptoms. Our app gives you daily pollen levels, localised weather and real-time air quality information as well as a 3-day pollen forecast during the season. It also has a pollen calendar for the year, which shows the difference between the expected low and peak seasons for various types of common pollen.
8 tips to reduce your contact with pollen
Limiting your exposure to pollen can help keep those pesky hay fever symptoms at bay. Try these tips:
- During peak pollen periods spend time at the coast or in the mountains if you can. Pollen counts are usually lower there.
- Big sunglasses or wrap-around sunglasses can help prevent pollen getting in your eyes.
- Keep windows and doors closed whenever you can.
- Air your rooms when the pollen count is low.
- Consider installing air conditioning or using special air purifiers.
- Wash your hair before going to bed and leave your clothes outside your bedroom.
- After being outdoors during the pollen season, it’s a good idea to wash your clothes.
- Try drying your laundry indoors when the pollen count is high as pollen in the breeze can stick to clothing.
Hay fever symptom relief
Another way to manage hay fever symptoms is taking symptom relief such as antihistamines, corticosteroids or decongestants.
Antihistamines help block the chemical histamine that’s triggering some of your hay fever symptoms. Corticosteroids can help calm inflammation. And the purpose of decongestants is to help with your blocked nose. However, decongestants should only be taken for a limited time.
Antihistamines and corticosteroids can be taken to relieve hay fever symptoms. Or they can be used as a preventative measure, ideally a couple of weeks before the pollen season starts or before your hay fever symptoms have been triggered. There are different types available such as tablets, nasal sprays or eye drops.
Always follow your doctor’s or pharmacist’s advice as well as the instructions in the patient information leaflet when taking hay fever symptom relief.
Hay fever symptoms all year round?
If you experience hay fever-like symptoms all year round, or you find they only occur at a certain place, they might not be hay fever symptoms at all. Those symptoms could potentially be caused by breathing in particles of airborne allergens other than pollen.
As well as pollen, allergic rhinitis can also be triggered by an allergy to other airborne allergens such as house dust mites, mould spores or pet dander. Pet dander is dead skin flakes, droplets of saliva or urine from an animal, commonly from cats or dogs. Read more about allergic rhinitis.
Baffled? It can be confusing, can’t it. We’ll always encourage you to talk to your doctor to identify what’s causing your symptoms.
When to see a doctor about your hay fever symptoms
Often, the symptoms of hay fever develop over time. You may become used to frequent bouts of sneezing, itchy, watery eyes and a blocked nose. But you don’t have to put up with it. If you think you have hay fever it might be a good idea to make an appointment with your doctor.
Only a doctor can make a diagnosis of allergy. Your doctor can offer advice and treatment for mild allergy symptoms that have an obvious cause. If your symptoms are severe, or it’s not clear what’s causing them, your doctor may refer you for allergy testing. Allergy testing can help establish exactly what’s causing your symptoms and to rule out others.
Knowing precisely what your triggers are means you’re in a better position to manage your hay fever symptoms. And means you can discuss treatment options with your doctor.
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