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Home / Hay Fever / Hay fever symptoms

Hay fever symptoms

How to tell if you have allergic rhinitis

Hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, is a common condition that millions battle with each year. From year-round to seasonal allergies, there are a variety of bothersome symptoms that can affect your quality of life. Regardless, it means many people dread hay fever season.

Whilst most hay fever symptoms are mild, it's still important you understand your symptoms so you can treat them effectively. So in this article, we're going to talk about the most common hay fever symptoms and the specific treatments available for them. Keep reading to find out more.

Young woman sneezes into tissue outside in spring.

What triggers hay fever symptoms?

Hay fever is caused by your body's response to a specific allergen. Your immune system mistakes a particular allergen as harmful, and releases chemicals that trigger an immune response. This chemical, called histamine, is what causes hay fever symptoms to occur.

The most common allergen is pollen, the fine powdery substance that plants produce to reproduce. However, symptoms can also be triggered by mould, pet dander and dust mites.

Pollen falling off tree.

When do they start and how long do they last?

Symptoms of hay fever typically start within a few hours of exposure to an allergen. They can last for several days or weeks, depending on the severity of the allergy. Some may experience allergy symptoms on and off throughout the year.

Depending on your triggers, your symptoms may be more likely to occur at certain times of the year. Pollen can spread easier in different weather conditions, especially when the weather is dry and windy.

Also, different allergens are more present throughout the year. For instance, tree pollen count is higher in the spring months, whilst grass pollen count is higher in the summer.

What are the symptoms of hay fever?

Pollen and other allergens come into direct contact with your body, as they target the mucous membranes in your nose, eyes and mouth. The particles also can stick to your skin, hair and clothes.

This means your body is affected in a variety of ways, resulting in many different symptoms. Some people may experience a few, whilst others will experience a lot of symptoms frequently.

Here are some of the most common symptoms.

Swollen or itchy eyes

One of the most common allergy symptoms is eye irritation, sometimes known as allergic conjunctivitis.

The allergen makes contact with the clear, thin membrane on the front surface of the eye. This becomes inflamed, and causes an allergic reaction resulting in the following:

  • itchy eyes
  • swollen and red eyes
  • watery eyes

It is unlike conjunctivitis (pink eye), which is a contagious infection which causes your eyes to feel gritty and sore.

Man rubbing his itching eyes outside.

Runny or blocked nose

Hay fever also causes nasal symptoms when the allergen comes into contact with the mucous membranes that line the nasal cavity. This causes the membrane to become inflamed and excessive levels of mucus to be produced.

This results in:

  • a runny nose
  • a blocked nose
  • an itchy nose
  • sneezing
  • loss of smell
  • painful sinuses
  • earache

If too much mucus builds up, this can result in an infection. It can cause sinusitis (a sinus infection) or a middle ear infection, where your eustachian tubes become blocked with mucus.

Man sneezing into his hands.

Rash

Pollen can also stick to your skin and clothes, which can cause a skin reaction. This is a condition known as hives, and is a common symptom of an allergic reaction.

Hives usually appear as a raised, red rash on your skin. The rash is itchy and may sometimes feel like it's burning or stinging. Usually it disappears on its own, but there are topical treatments that can soothe the itching.

 Close up of man scratching skin due to hives.

Cough

A hay fever cough is a common symptom, and is caused by postnasal drip.

Postnasal drip occurs when too much mucus is produced in response to irritation of the nasal lining. This mucus builds up and drips down the back of your nose and into your throat.

This causes you to cough, because your throat may feel tickly and it will make you want to clear your throat to get rid of the mucus.

A hay fever cough may also be related to allergic asthma.

Woman outside coughing into her elbow.

A sore throat

Like a cough, a sore throat is caused by nasal irritation.

More specifically, hay fever can cause your nose to become blocked. This means your nasal passages cannot filter air, so your mouth has to. However, your mouth cannot filter air in the same way that your nose can, so this causes the throat to become irritated.

Your throat may feel dry, sore or tickly.

Man with sore throat.

Headache

The main cause of headache with hay fever is due to nasal congestion. Your sinuses are small empty spaces behind your cheekbones and forehead. So when your sinuses are blocked, this causes pain across your face and head.

Close up of woman with headache touching her forehead.

Fatigue

Whilst a common symptom, many people don't associate tiredness with hay fever. However, hay fever symptoms can affect people at night. This can keep people up at night and can result in daytime tiredness.

Young man yawning on light background.

What are symptoms of allergic asthma?

Hay fever can also be a trigger for asthma symptoms.

When rain droplets crash into airborne pollen, it causes the pollen to break down into tiny particles. They are then small enough that they can enter the lungs and irritate your airways.

This can result in symptoms that are more serious such as:

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

If you are prone to allergic asthma, then it's important you take your inhalers correctly to prevent an asthma attack.

Close up of woman’s hand pressing inhaler outside.

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

Cold and flu symptoms can appear very similar to hay fever. They both can cause a runny nose, sneezing and coughing, so some people find it difficult to tell them apart. However, there is a key difference in the pattern of symptoms.

The best way to tell the conditions apart is when and how the symptoms occur. Flu will usually appear with no clear cause, and will last around 1 - 2 weeks. On the other hand, symptoms of hay fever are allergen-specific, meaning they will occur consistently throughout a particular pollen season or in response to a specific trigger.

Young woman with a cold under a blanket blowing her nose.

How do I treat hay fever symptoms?

There are a variety of over-the-counter hay fever treatments available for the different hay fever symptoms.

  • For itchy or watery eyes, you can use eye drops that contain sodium cromoglicate, these will usually be labelled as eye drops for hay fever.
  • For a runny or blocked nose, you can use a nasal decongestant in the form of spray or drops. However, these should not be used in the long-term as one of the side effects is tissue damage, which can result in a chronically stuffy nose.
  • For hives, you can use a mild steroid cream such as hydrocortisone to help with the itching and inflammation.

For severe rhinitis, your doctor may prescribe you a corticosteroid nasal spray or drop such as Avamys. These treatments work by reducing nasal inflammation.

You can also take antihistamine tablets. These directly target the chemical response and will help with all of your symptoms. There are several non-drowsy over-the-counter antihistamines available, such as Cetirizine. For more troublesome hay fever, your doctor may recommend a prescription antihistamine such as Fexofenadine (Telfast).

At euroClinix, you can order Avamys nasal spray and Fexofenadine online, meaning you always have your anti-allergy meds on hand.

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