What is hay fever?
All you need to know and what you can do
It’s a beautiful day, but you’re feeling rotten: your eyes are watering, you can’t stop sniffling, and you keep sneezing. Are these just the symptoms of a late spring cold? Or are you suffering from hay fever, one of the most common allergies in the UK?
What is hay fever?
The UK has one of the highest rates of hay fever in the world. Hay fever is an allergic inflammation of the nasal passages which is triggered by pollen, released into the air by grass, trees and weeds.
Hay fever happens because your body identifies pollen as something harmful. Even though pollen is not dangerous, your body will often overreact when you are exposed to pollen in the air. It is not fully understood why some people develop allergy to non-harmful pollens, but inheritance plays a role, and allergy often runs in families.
Typical hay fever symptoms
Allergy symptoms are similar to that of the common cold, including frequent sneezing and a runny nose, and itchy eyes. But although it can make you feel wretched, a cold typically lasts just a few days. If your symptoms are persisting – particularly in the warmer months – a hay fever allergy may well be the culprit. It’s also more likely to be hay fever if you feel worse when you go outside.
Many sufferers also describe a "tingling sensation" in the nose or in the eyes. Others complain of hypersensitivity of the nose to other stimuli such as cold air, scents or tobacco smoke.
When do you get hay fever?
Hay fever symptoms are usually worst in the spring and summer because of high seasonal pollen levels, although some people are still impacted into the autumn.
Your allergy symptoms may be particularly bad at a certain time of the day, when the species of pollen you are allergic to is at its highest. Weather also plays a role. More pollen moves through the air on hot, dry and windy days.
How to cope
Limit your exposure to pollen
Practical tips for keeping pollen at bay
Use symptom relievers
A guide to over-the-counter remedies
How to talk to a doctor about the alternatives
Effects on your quality of life
Hay fever symptoms can disrupt your sleep, making you feel extremely tired during the day. There is a well-documented link between hay fever and poor exam performance, while for adults, concentration levels and productivity at work may decrease.
If your allergy symptoms are taking their toll and interfering with your daily life, it is important that you seek help by consulting your doctor or an allergy specialist. Allergy affecting the nose and eyes can also exacerbate asthma. Appropriate diagnosis and treatment is important to decrease the impact allergy has on your life in the short and long term.