Hay fever

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Hay fever is one of the most common allergic conditions. Read on for expert advice from our pharmacists to help you manage your symptoms effectively...

What is hay fever?

Hay fever is a common allergic condition that affects up to one in five people at some point in their life. The symptoms include sneezing, a runny nose and red, watery or itchy eyes.

Hay fever symptoms are caused by an allergic reaction to pollen. Pollen is a fine powder released by plants as part of their reproductive cycle. It contains proteins that can cause the nose, eyes, throat and sinuses (small air-filled cavities behind your cheekbones and forehead) to become swollen, irritated and inflamed.

You can have an allergy to:

  • tree pollen, released during spring
  • grass pollen, released during the end of spring and beginning of summer
  • weed pollen, released late autumn

Who is affected by hay fever?

It’s estimated that there are more than 10 million people with hay fever in England. You can get hay fever at any age, although it usually begins in childhood or during the teenage years. It’s more common in boys than girls. In adults, men and women are equally affected. You’re more likely to develop hay fever if you have a family history of allergies, particularly asthma or eczema.

Many people find their symptoms improve as they get older. Around half of people report some improvement in symptoms after several years. Symptoms disappear completely in around 10-20% of people.

How can I manage my hay fever symptoms?

The following advice is recommended to manage your hay fever symptoms:

  • Wearing sunglasses can help reduce pollen contact with the eyes.
  • Shower, wash your hair and change your clothes after spending time outdoors to remove any pollen from your skin and hair.
  • Dry washed clothes indoors during the peak pollen season.
  • Stay indoors when the pollen count is high – different types of pollen can affect different people, although there can be a crossover. A pollen forecast can be seen on the Met Office website.
  • Alcohol may increase allergy symptoms and should be avoided when your hay fever is at its worst.

Should I seek medical advice?

There’s currently no cure for hay fever, but most people are able to relieve some of their symptoms with treatment. The most effective way to treat hay fever would be to avoid exposure to pollen. However it’s very difficult to avoid pollen, particularly during the summer months when the pollen count is highest and you want to spend more time outdoors in the warm weather.

Treatment options for hay fever include antihistamines, which can help to prevent an allergic reaction from occurring and corticosteroids (steroids), which help to reduce inflammation and swelling.

For severe and persistent hay fever, there’s also a type of treatment called immunotherapy. It involves being exposed to small amounts of pollen over time, to build resistance to its allergic effects. However, this can take many months or even years to work.

Next steps…

If you are suffering from hay fever, please don’t hesitate to get in touch by booking a free telephone consultation with one of our experienced pharmacists for advice and support.

If your symptoms don’t improve after using over-the-counter antihistamines, it’s worth speaking to your GP, as you may require prescription medication. Your GP may be able to recommend other treatments, such as antihistamine drops that are only available on prescription.

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