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Hay Fever

Get hay fever treatment with an online prescription

Hay fever is a condition caused by an allergy to pollen and is characterised by cold-like symptoms such as a runny nose or watery eyes. The condition affects the quality of life of up to 16 million people each year in the UK and is most prevalent between the early spring and summer months. Whilst there's no permanent fix for the condition, hay fever is easily managed with lifestyle changes and treatment which you can purchase online here at euroClinix.

Medically reviewed by
Dr. Ranjan Pruthi MBBS/MS/MRCS Ed/MRCG Written by our editorial team
Last reviewed 14-06-2022

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What is hay fever?

Hay fever is a common condition known as allergic rhinitis or seasonal allergic rhinitis. Most people develop it during childhood, but some start noticing symptoms in adulthood.

Symptoms occur when the body comes into contact with pollen or other allergens such as pet dander, mould and house dust mites. Your body mistakes these allergens as harmful and produces IgE antibodies in response to the allergen. When these antibodies come into contact with the allergen, your body releases a chemical called histamine which triggers an immune response to the allergen.

Your body comes into direct contact with pollen via the mucous membranes of your nose, eye and mouth. However, pollen particles on your skin, hair and clothes can also trigger symptoms.

When do you get hay fever?

Hay fever is most common during the months between March and September, as the climate is warmer and it tends to be windier. As pollen is airborne, it means it's more easily spread during these months and more people are affected.

However, different types of pollen are more prevalent at different times of the year. So depending on what triggers your symptoms, your hay fever may be more severe at certain times of the year.

What causes hay fever?

Pollen is the main cause of allergic rhinitis. It is the powdery substances that flowers produce to reproduce. There are three main types of pollen in the UK that can result in symptoms.

Grass pollen

Grass pollen is the most prevalent type of pollen in the UK and has the longest season. Grass pollen season lasts during the later months of the summer, from May to early September, but is at its highest between June and July. If you're particularly sensitive to grass pollen, you may find that your symptoms are worse whilst you're cutting the grass.

Tree pollen

Another significant cause of hay fever is tree pollen. Tree pollen comes from the flowers of the trees. There is a wide variety of tree pollen in the UK and therefore has quite a long season. Some tree pollen is prevalent as early as January, but the season starts for most during March and ends around July.

The most troublesome of tree pollen is birch pollen, but other common offenders include oak, pine, alder and hazel pollen.

Weed pollen

The final trigger of hay fever is weed pollen. Weed pollen season typically starts around late April and lasts until the end of September. Like tree pollen, there are several variants of weed pollen. Ragweed pollen is the most notable, but nettle, mugwort and dock pollen are also some of the most troublesome.

Other allergens

Hay fever symptoms can also be caused by a few other allergens, including:

  • pet dander - the skin, saliva, fur or feathers of animals
  • dust mites - microscopic insects that live in household dust
  • mould spores - microscopic fungi that grows in damp and poorly ventilated areas

These are less commonly associated with hay fever, but can cause some people serious allergic reactions.

What are the risk factors for hay fever?

Some people may be more at risk of developing hay fever than others including those who have:

  • asthma
  • atopic dermatitis (eczema)
  • other allergies
  • a family history of hay fever
  • live or work in an environment with high allergen exposure
  • a mother who smoked during your early childhood

These conditions means you may be more likely to develop the condition and experience more prevalent symptoms.

What are the symptoms of hay fever?

The severity and the nature of your symptoms varies depending on the individual. The most common symptoms include:

  • sneezing
  • coughing
  • runny or blocked nose
  • postnasal drip (constant need to clear your throat)
  • painful sinuses
  • loss of smell
  • itchy, red or watery eyes
  • itchy throat, mouth, nose or ears
  • headache or earache
  • drowsiness

How do I know if it's hay fever or a common cold?

The symptoms of hay fever and colds can be quite similar, but there are a few differences that will help you distinguish between the two.

The main difference between the two is the duration of symptoms. Seasonal allergy symptoms typically last for a lot longer and occur periodically during specific pollen seasons. A cold, on the other hand, typically lasts for 1 - 2 weeks.

Cold symptoms also tend to be slightly different than hay fever symptoms. If you have a cold, it's more common to experience nasal congestion, a fever and a cough. Whilst in the case of hay fever, you're more likely to experience itchy eyes, sneezing and a runny nose.

Asthma and hay fever

Living with asthma can be difficult, but it can be even more difficult for asthmatics who also experience hay fever.

Hay fever can trigger asthma symptoms, in fact 80% of people who have asthma also struggle with hay fever throughout the year. Symptoms of hay fever for people with asthma tend to be worse and cause breathing difficulties such as:

  • tightness in your chest
  • shortness of breath
  • wheezing and coughing

If the symptoms aren't managed, it could result in an asthma attack which can be dangerous. Therefore, it's important that you manage your asthma by taking your inhalers and other asthma medicines correctly. You should also prepare for the hay fever season by following preventative measures and stocking up on your antihistamines.

How is hay fever diagnosed?

For the occasional hay fever sufferers, a pharmacist can diagnose you with a description of your symptoms. You will rarely need a formal diagnosis for hay fever.

Your GP will only refer you to a specialist immunology clinic for allergy testing if your symptoms occur throughout the year or are not responding to treatment.

If you need allergy testing, it will likely be one of two tests. A skin prick test will involve the immunologist placing the pollen on your skin and pricking it with a needle. If your skin reacts, you have a pollen allergy. Otherwise, you will have a blood test to detect the specific antibodies released during an allergic reaction.

How do I prevent hay fever symptoms?

There are a few things you can do to help prevent hay fever symptoms from occurring.

  • check the pollen count - just like the weather, you can see the pollen levels each day before you leave the house by checking the pollen forecast
  • track your symptoms - this will help you recognise when your symptoms are worst and how to prepare
  • avoid outdoor gardening (e.g cutting the grass or pulling weeds)
  • avoid going outdoors where possible
  • don't bring fresh flowers into your home
  • wash your clothing, bedding and hair regularly - this helps to prevent pollen from lingering and causing symptoms
  • try not to let your pet into the house - they can carry pollen indoors
  • avoid drying laundry outside - this stops pollen sticking to freshly clean items
  • wear a filter mask on high pollen days
  • if possible, keep windows and doors shut
  • regularly vacuum and polish to remove dust
  • put petroleum jelly (Vaseline) under your nostrils to catch pollen before it enters your nose
  • get pollen filters for your car and hoover
  • wear wraparound sunglasses to prevent pollen getting into your eyes

Doing these steps on high pollen count days or during the seasons that affect you most will help reduce the risk of symptoms occurring and alleviate them if they do occur.

How do I treat hay fever?

Although you cannot cure hay fever, there are plenty of treatments available for the wide variety of symptoms.

Antihistamines

The most common treatment for hay fever are medicines known as antihistamines. They work by blocking the histamine response in your body, which prevents symptoms from occurring.

Antihistamines tend to be available in liquid and tablet form, but some come in topical forms (eye drops or nasal sprays) for more direct relief of symptoms.

Over-the-counter antihistamine medicines are the safest option, especially if you are pregnant or have an underlying condition. Common over-the-counter antihistamines include:

  • cetirizine (Zirtek)
  • loratadine (Clarityn)
  • chlorphenamine (Piriton)
  • fexofenadine (Allevia)
  • acrivastine (Benadryl)

Some antihistamines are more potent, and therefore need a prescription, such as:

  • levocetirizine
  • desloratadine
  • mizolastine
  • azelastine

The above medicines tend to have more side effects, and may not be suitable for some. Therefore, it's important you consult your doctor before taking any antihistamines.

Nasal decongestants

Another type of medicine you can take for hay fever symptoms are nasal decongestants. They provide direct relief for a runny or blocked nose, and will alleviate any congestion.

Like antihistamines, there are several forms available over the counter. Decongestants such as pseudoephedrine and phenylephrine (Sudafed) are commonly sold in liquid and tablet forms, and are often included in combination treatments with certain antihistamines.

Oxymetazoline is another decongestant and the active ingredient of many brands of nasal sprays and drops (e.g Otrivine or Vicks). You should not take nasal sprays and drops for longer than a week, as this can cause symptoms to come back or get worse.

There are also more natural decongestants available such as salt water rinses and sprays as well as mentholated treatments.

Eye drops

There are also several brands of eye drops available for allergic conjunctivitis, the medical name for itchy, red and watery eyes caused by hay fever.

The main medicine available for eye symptoms is called sodium cromoglicate, an anti-inflammatory agent that directly targets the allergic response.

Steroid nasal sprays and drops

If you find that regular antihistamines don't help your allergic rhinitis symptoms, you may benefit from stronger treatment. Corticosteroids, otherwise known as steroids, are available on prescription for severe hay fever symptoms. They directly target inflammation in the nasal passage and reduce symptoms.

Commonly prescribed steroids include:

  • beclomethasone (Becconase)
  • mometasone (Clarinaze or Nasonex)
  • fluticasone (Avamys)

Steroid sprays and drops can cause side effects and are not suitable for everyone to take. For that reason, it's important to consult your doctor before using one.

Allergy Immunotherapy

For the most severe of hay fever symptoms, you may be referred for immunotherapy, sometimes referred to as desensitisation.

This is a form of preventative treatment which you start around 3 months before the hay fever season. You will be given allergy shots over a period of time which contain small amounts of pollen. This therefore modifies your immune system’s response to pollen or another allergen, so that your body doesn't recognise it as a harmful substance.

It is quite difficult to get immunotherapy for allergic rhinitis. It’s not available on the NHS as it is both a time-consuming and expensive treatment. Therefore, it is only reserved for patients with very severe symptoms.

Can I buy hay fever treatment online?

Yes, you can purchase prescription hay fever treatments online here at euroClinix. All you have to do is fill out a short medical consultation form, which will be approved by one of our UK registered doctors. Once approved for treatment, your medication will be dispensed and dispatched to your home with free next-day delivery.

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