Hay fever

Hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen, typically when it comes in contact with your mouth, nose, eyes and throat.  It affects up to 1 in 5 people at some point in their life.

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 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

Hay fever is usually worse between late March and September, especially when it’s warm, humid and windy. This is when the pollen count is at its highest.

The other form of allergic rhinitis with all year round symptoms are often trigerred by allergens in the home, such as those from house dust mites, indoor moulds, animal dander etc.

Hay fever can affect both adults and children. Many people find their symptoms improve as they get older.

Allergy UK has fact sheets with more detailed information for house dust mite and pet allergy.


Check if you have hay fever

Symptoms of hay fever include:

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

If you have asthma, you might also:

  • have a tight feeling in your chest
  • be short of breath
  • wheeze and cough

Hay fever will last for weeks or months, unlike a cold, which usually goes away after 1 to 2 weeks. Hay fever isn't usually serious  but can lead to poor-quality sleep, tiredness and poor concentration during the daytime.


✔ put Vaseline around your nostrils to trap pollen

✔ wear wraparound sunglasses to stop pollen getting into your eyes 

✔ shower and change your clothes after you have been outside to wash pollen off

✔ stay indoors whenever possible

✔ keep windows and doors shut as much as possible

✔ vacuum regularly and dust with a damp cloth

✔ buy a pollen filter for the air vents in your car and a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter

✔ try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people if you have a high temperature or you do not feel well enough to do your normal activities


X do not cut grass or walk on grass

X do not spend too much time outside

X do not keep fresh flowers in the house

X do not smoke or be around smoke – it makes your symptoms worse

X ​​​​​​​do not dry clothes outside – they can catch pollen

X ​​​​​​​do not let pets into the house if possible – they can carry pollen indoors

Who can help? 

Speak to your pharmacist/ GP surgery  if you have hay fever.

They can give advice and suggest the best treatments, like antihistamine drops, tablets or nasal sprays to help with:

  • itchy and watery eyes and sneezing
  • a blocked nose

Treatment aims to manage symptoms and avoid the causes. 

Antihistamines syrups or tablets are usually divided into 2 main groups:

  1. Non-drowsy antihistamines (preferred) e.g. Cetirizine, loratadine and fexofenadine. These medications are less likely to make you feel sleepy.
  2. Antihistamines that make you feel sleepy e.g. chlorpheniramine (Piriton) and hydroxyzin- they are less preferred options

Antihistamine eyedrops can be helpful for eye symptoms. Some of these can be purchased from a pharmacy e.g sodium cromoglycate and others are available on prescription 

Corticosteroid nose sprays are the best treatment for hay fever, especially for a blocked nose. Your child can use them safely throughout the pollen season for seasonal hay fever, or throughout the year for perennial rhinitis.Some of these can be purchased from a pharmacy and others are available on prescription.

Severe rhinitis caused by pollen or dust that won't go away, your doctor might consider sending your child to a specialist for immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is also known as desensitisation and aims to change the body's immune system and switch off the allergy. This will usually be done under the supervision of a doctor with experience in allergy and started at a hospital.

Find a pharmacy here. 

Contact your GP Surgery if: 
  • your symptoms are getting worse
  • your symptoms do not improve after taking medicines from the pharmacy

Can children outgrow their hay fever?

Hay fever symptoms are more common in young people. At present, it is not possible to predict whose hay fever will get better and whose will remain. Some patients will also suffer from asthma and require inhalers.

Met Office pollen calendar for the UK

People with hay fever do not have allergies to all pollens. Pollen from different plants vary during the year. Tree pollen tends to be highest in spring, grass pollen is highest in summer and many weed pollens are highest in autumn:

  • tree pollen (e.g. hazel, yew, alder, elm, birch) counts highest in February and March
  • grass pollen counts highest in May to August.
  • Weed pollen (e.g. rape seed, nettle, mugwort) counts highest in May to September

Pollen forecast - Met Office produces pollen forecasts for 5 days ahead across the whole of the UK.

Other Useful resources:

Allergy UK Hay Fever | Allergy UK | National Charity

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Page last updated on: 14th March 2023