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Home / Asthma / How hay fever can trigger your asthma

How hay fever can trigger your asthma

Learn how to manage your asthma during hay fever season

Hay fever is an allergy to certain types of pollen that affects many people year round. Whilst hay fever season can be a nuisance to manage for the average person, it can be a lot more troublesome for those who have asthma.

This is because, among many potential triggers such as house dust mites and pet dander, hay fever can cause serious asthma attacks. In fact, a survey conducted by Asthma UK found that 80% of people with asthma also have hay fever, 61% of which think they’re at a higher risk of attacks caused by hay fever symptoms.

Asthma attacks can be extremely dangerous, but they are completely avoidable as long as you know how to manage your triggers. Read to find out more about the relationship between hay fever and asthma, as well as what you can do to manage both conditions here at euroClinix.

Girl sneezing in a field of flowers

What is hay fever?

Hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, is an allergy to different types of pollen. Pollen is a typically yellow, powdery substance which helps plants to reproduce. Most pollen is harmless, but the three main types that cause problems are tree pollen, grass pollen and weed pollen. Because of the variety of pollen present, it is prevalent throughout the year but is most troublesome in the months of March to September.

This pollen is then spread in the atmosphere by the wind and if it comes into contact with the lining of the nose, mouth, eyes or throat, it can cause allergy symptoms in those who are susceptible.

An allergic reaction occurs when the proteins in your immune system, known as antibodies, mistakenly identify the pollen as a harmful substance. The antibodies then bind to the pollen to defend the body. Your body then releases a chemical known as ‘histamine’, which causes allergy symptoms.

Symptoms of hay fever include:

  • sneezing and coughing
  • a blocked nose or runny nose (nasal congestion)
  • sinus congestion or pain
  • watery eyes
  • red and itchy eyes
  • itchy throat, mouth, nose and ears
  • loss of smell
  • pain around your temples and forehead
  • headache
  • earache
  • feeling tired

It appears very similar to a cold, and symptoms often cause confusion. However, unlike a cold, symptoms will appear during pollen season and can appear on and off for weeks and months during those times of the year. A cold will develop outside of pollen season and symptoms will disappear after 1 - 2 weeks.

There is no cure for hay fever but it is a manageable condition with over-the-counter treatments from pharmacies or prescription treatments for those with more severe symptoms.

Plant releasing pollen

How does it cause asthma symptoms?

Pollen can also affect the respiratory system so therefore becomes a potential trigger for those with asthma, often referred to as ‘allergic asthma’. This is because asthmatics already have sensitive airways, which pollen can quickly inflame and cause a buildup of mucus.

In fact, people are much more likely to develop asthma if they have a family history or they themselves have an allergy-related condition such as atopic eczema, food allergies as well as hay fever.

This results in people with asthma experiencing a worsening or onset of their symptoms as well as regular hay fever symptoms, including:

  • tight feeling in your chest
  • shortness of breath
  • wheeze and cough

If symptoms are ignored, it could cause an asthma attack.

Elderly man using asthma inhaler outside next to some tree blossoms

How do you prevent asthma attacks?

The key to preventing asthma attacks is to manage both conditions and prepare for the hay fever season.

The main way to reduce any risk of an asthma attack is to make sure you are managing your asthma correctly. This does not only involve taking your medicines correctly, but also involves making sure you see your doctor or asthma nurse regularly. They can monitor any changes in your condition and amend your medication if needed. Making sure your medication is correct will help if your symptoms do get temporarily worse.

The same can be said for hay fever, especially as a trigger for asthma. Managing your hay fever can ensure you are using your treatments correctly, thereby keeping your symptoms under wraps and not causing asthma attacks. You can do so by checking the pollen count before you go outside. You should also track your when and where your symptoms occur. This will help you identify the type of pollen that affects you so you can preemptively treat at the right time of year, or potentially avoid and prepare for certain areas that are abundant in that type of pollen.

Planning can be a little more effort, but it means you can be prepared for any eventuality and completely cut the risk of a fatal asthma attack.

Various asthma inhalers spread out on graph paper

How do you treat them?

As well as managing both conditions, it’s important that you’re using the best treatments for you to both prevent attacks and effectively treat them if they do occur.

Hay fever

Whilst there is no indefinite cure for hay fever, there are many over-the-counter and prescription hay fever treatments available to alleviate symptoms.

Over-the-counter, you can get several tablets and solutions such as cetirizine (Piriteze), loratadine (Clarityn) and chlorphenamine (Piriton). These treatments are known as ‘antihistamines’. You can also get more topical treatments of hay fever symptoms including nasal sprays, nasal drops and eye drops.

If you find these treatments don’t keep hay fever symptoms at bay, you may benefit from prescription-only antihistamines (fexofenadine or promethazine) and steroid nasal sprays (beclometasone). Immunotherapy is available from specialists for certain types of pollen, where you are given small amounts of pollen so your body can develop immunity to it. However, this is not available on the NHS nor is it recommended for those with asthma due to an increased risk of side effects.

Handkerchiefs, nasal sprays and tablets laid out next to some white flowers

Asthma

The key to preventing attacks is to make sure you’re taking your asthma medications correctly which includes your inhalers as well as any tablets or oral steroids (corticosteroids) for those with severe asthma.

You must take your preventer inhaler as prescribed as this can reduce any sensitivity or swelling in your airways before any interaction from pollen. You should also carry your reliever inhaler (typically blue). Using your reliever inhaler as soon as you spot symptoms can quickly relieve symptoms and reduce any risk of an attack.

With euroClinix, you can make sure you never run out of your vital inhalers ever again. We have a number of preventer and reliever inhalers available, including Ventolin and Clenil, so you can stay protected and go outside without any worry of triggering symptoms throughout the year.

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Medically reviewed by
Dr. Anand Abbot Written by our editorial team
Last reviewed 31-08-2022
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