Hay Fever Symptoms and Treatments

Updated 20th Jul 2020

Hay fever (allergic rhinitis) is an allergic reaction to pollen that causes cold-like symptoms. It’s frustrating and can make you feel quite miserable and can have a negative effect on your day to day life.

Fortunately there are some treatments and ways you can prepare for the dreaded hay fever season.


When Is Hay Fever Season?

Hay fever generally starts to get worse during spring. This is because following the winter, flowers will start to flower, increasing the pollen in the air. This will usually continue throughout the summer - between late March and September, especially when the weather is warm, windy and humid.

Some years, hay fever sufferers experience worse symptoms due to something called a pollen bomb, which happens when warmer weather follows a long winter. This causes plants that couldn’t flower earlier in the year to do so at once or over a short period of time, resulting in a much higher concentration of pollen in the air

There are various hay fever triggers that are more likely to occur at specific times of the year:

  • Tree Pollen: March - April (early spring)
  • Grass Pollen: May - July (late spring and summer)
  • Dust Mites, Cockroaches: All year
  • Mould Spores: September - October (autumn)

How Long Does Hay Fever Last?

If you are a hay fever sufferer, it’s likely that you will experience the symptoms for as long as you are exposed to allergens, which is commonly for weeks or months.


Hay Fever Symptoms

Hay fever sufferers usually experience sneezing, coughing, runny noses and itchy/watery eyes. General symptoms include:

  • Sneezing and coughing
  • Runny or blocked nose
  • Itchy, red, water or puffy eyes
  • Itchy mouth, throat, ears and nose
  • Headache
  • Pain around temples
  • Earache
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of smell

Severe Hay Fever Symptoms

Symptoms can be more severe if you have asthma, this includes:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing and coughing
  • Tight feeling in your chest

Hay Fever vs Common Cold

It can be difficult to differentiate between hay fever and the common cold because a lot of the symptoms are similar. The most significant differences are the onset and duration.

Onset: Hay fever symptoms start immediately after you’re exposed to the allergens, while the cold starts one to three days after you’re exposed to the virus.

Duration: You will ordinarily recover from the cold in three to seven days, whereas you can suffer from hay fever symptoms for as long as you’re exposed to the allergens.

Symptoms: Hay fever won’t actually cause a fever, whereas a cold can

There are some other conditions with symptoms similar to that of hay fever (which can cause a fever):

  • Head cold
  • Sinusitis
  • Irritant rhinitis
  • Infective rhinitis

If you’re not sure about which of these you have, you can speak to your GP or pharmacist about your symptoms.

Hay Fever vs Coronavirus

One unexpected problem people are facing this year is the confusion between whether or not the symptoms you are experiencing are due to hay fever or covid-19. Of course, this can be a scary uncertainty to have.

Symptoms shared are loss of smell, blocked nose, and headache, which also includes wheezing and breathlessness if you also have asthma.

You may be able to tell if you have coronavirus or hay fever, if you have suffered from hay fever before, or if your symptoms are brought on specifically when you’re exposed to allergens. However, if you have a new cough and especially a fever, you should self isolate regardless. If your symptoms are mild, you can manage them at home, but if they become more severe or you are feeling worried, you can check your symptoms on the NHS website, and you will be advised what to do next. Don’t go to your GP, pharmacy or a hospital if you think you have coronavirus.


Hay Fever and You


An allergic reaction is your immune system producing antibodies to protect you from a harmless substance (an allergen) that it has identified as harmful. It protects you by releasing chemicals such as histamine causing various symptoms, commonly sneezing and itching. In the cases of hay fever, the allergens include pollen, dust and mould.


If you have hay fever, you may not feel the need to see a doctor, either because you’re already familiar with the symptoms, or the similarities to the common cold encourage you to treat it as such. This is absolutely fine, and you should be able to manage your symptoms with over counter treatments from your pharmacy. However, if your symptoms aren’t getting better with these, or if you would like to be sure, it may be worth seeing your doctor for an official diagnosis.

In most cases, your GP will be able to identify if you have hay fever by just talking through your symptoms and medical history with you. They may also do a physical examination by taking a close look at your eyes and in your nose.

If this isn’t enough to make a diagnosis, you may be referred for an allergy test. These could be one of the following:

  • Skin prick test: A small amount of allergens will be pricked into the skin of your arm or back, and then you will be watched for signs of an allergic reaction. This will generally look like a raised bump, similar to a mosquito bite.
  • Allergy blood test: A blood sample will be checked to test your immune system’s reaction to an allergen. This is done to measure the amount of allergy-causing antibodies in your bloodstream.

Risk Factors

According to Allergy UK, hay fever affects between 10% and 30% of all adults and as many as 40% children, and an increasing number of people are starting to develop hay fever for the first time in their 20s. To help you prepare, or understand why you may be one of those people, it’ll help to understand what can increase your chances of developing hay fever:

  • Having other allergies
  • Having asthma
  • Having a blood relative with allergies
  • Having a blood relative with asthma
  • Having eczema (atopic dermatitis)
  • Living in an environment that exposes you to allergens regularly, such as dust mites
  • If your mother smoked during your first year of life


Hay fever is very common, and while it’s a manageable condition with the right treatments, it can cause some more serious problems. These include:

  • Poor sleep: Hay fever symptoms can significantly reduce your quality of sleep, leading to fatigue
  • Worsening asthma: Some symptoms of asthma, such as wheezing, can become more severe due to hay fever
  • Ear infections: Middle ear infection can be caused by hay fever if the thin tube that runs from the middle ear to the back of the nose becomes blocked by a build-up of mucus
  • Sinusitis: If your hay fever causes you to have prolonged sinus congestion, it can increase your risk of sinus infection
  • Reduced quality of life: Hay fever can unfortunately affect you being able to enjoy activities you would like to take part in, namely several summer activities, and also lead to absences from work


Hay Fever Treatments

While you can’t necessarily prevent hay fever, there are ways that you can avoid the likelihood of experiencing symptoms, including checking out the Met Office’s Pollen Forecast to have a more accurate idea of the pollen count in your area, and steps you can take to help you when you do.

Managing Hay Fever

When the pollen count is high, the NHS advises you to take measures to reduce your exposure to the allergens. These measures  include staying indoors whenever possible, wearing wraparound sunglasses to better protect your eyes, avoiding freshly cut grass, keeping doors and windows shut in the home, and vacuuming regularly.

Treating Hay Fever

For most, you can treat and control your hay fever symptoms with over the counter medication. These include antihistamine tablets, nose sprays (both steroid and antihistamine), eye drops and syrup. You can also try non-medicated options that can help with reducing symptoms and getting rid of allergens, such as saline sprays and douches. If you are interested in using any of these products but haven’t previously, make sure you speak to your pharmacist first to find out if they are right for you, and the best ways to take them. You can do this via the chat feature on the Healthera app, or when you walk in.

In some cases however, you may need a prescription from your GP in order to manage your symptoms. This will apply to those that are not experiencing benefits from using the medication purchased from the pharmacy and those for whom the hay fever is aggravating their asthma. Please contact your GP if you fall into this category, or have any other concerns.

How To Cure Hay Fever Permanently

It’s comforting to know that there is extensive research being done to find ways to treat allergies permanently. One of these ways is training your immune system to not react to harmless allergens. This method, immunotherapy, has been around for a long time and has been used for those with severe hay fever, and other allergies. While this doesn’t currently cure your allergies, it can significantly reduce it.


Extra Help

As previously mentioned, while there are numerous methods to take to manage allergies on your own, if you need help and support in doing so, pharmacists, GPs, and online resources are available.


If you have hay fever, or think you have hay fever, speak to your pharmacist about treatments you can try. They will be able to give advice and suggest the best ones based on your symptoms.


Your GP can help diagnose your condition, and then prescribe steroids, refer you for immunotherapy, or other treatments that may work for you, that you can’t get yourself.



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