Ask the Chemist

What is Hay Fever

Hay fever, otherwise known as seasonal allergic rhinitis, is an allergic reaction to airborne substances such as pollen that get into the upper respiratory passages - the nose, sinus, throat - and also the eyes.

Sneezing man
Ask one of trained team for the best line of treatment.

Hay fever is the most common of all the allergic diseases - about 15 per cent of the population in industrialised countries suffer from this condition. Symptoms usually appear in childhood first and then lessen by the age of 30 or 40.

Perennial allergic rhinitis is a similar allergy that occurs all year round and is caused by things such as house dust mites and pets. However the predominant allergen changes from time to time.

Why do you get hay fever?

Different microscopic substances get into the nose and cause the body to produce antibodies and release histamine.

Histamine irritates the upper respiratory passages, making them swell and producing the typical hay fever symptoms.

A tendency to suffer allergies is often hereditary. The most common causes of hay fever are:

  • tree pollen such as elder, elm, hazel and especially birch (spring hay fever).
  • grass pollen (summer hay fever).
  • mugwort and hybrids such as chrysanthemum (autumn hay fever).
  • house dust mites and mould fungus - particularly associated with perennial allergic rhinitis.

What are the symptoms of hay fever?

  • Itchy and watery eyes.
  • Frequent sneezing, a bunged up or runny nose.
  • Itching on the roof of the mouth.
  • Coughing.
  • Wheezing or a burning sensation in the throat.

What can cause hay fever?

  • The pollen to which you are allergic.
  • Genetic predisposition associated with other atopicdiseases, eg eczema or asthma.

How does the doctor make the diagnosis?
Often it will be enough to tell the doctor when, where, and how your symptoms occur. Skin tests and specific blood tests can be used to confirm what exactly you are allergic to.

In the long term
Hay fever sufferers are more vulnerable to other allergic respiratory diseases, eg asthma, and sleeping difficulties that can lead to chronic fatigue (because of blocked nasal passages and snoring).

If you suffer from hay fever you should do whatever you can to avoid substances that provoke hypersensitivity. Otherwise you will increase the risk of developing other, more serious, allergic diseases.

Symptoms can be controlled through treatment, but you can't get rid of the allergy itself. However, hay fever is usually more of a nuisance than a harm to health, and the symptoms of many people improve over time.

What medicine can I take?
There are numerous medicines that can be used to relieve the symptoms of hay fever. Many of these are now available over-the-counter and your doctor or pharmacist will be able to advise you whether they are suitable.

The choice will often depend on which symptoms trouble you the most.




Good Advice

  • If your hay fever is caused by various pollens, try to keep doors and windows shut during the pollen season.
  • Let someone else mow the lawn.
  • Check pollen forecasts. Try to avoid outdoor activities if very high.