What is hayfever?

Hayfever, or seasonal allergies, are caused by and allergy to grass or hay pollens, however the term is also used to describe allergies caused by other pollens, including tree pollens. Many people get seasonal allergies initially when they are children or young adults, and these symptoms may improve over time.

Who gets hayfever?

Hayfever is a very common condition, and tends to run in families.

People with asthma or eczema are more likely to develop hayfever, and if you have hayfever, you are more likely to develop asthma or eczema. These conditions are together known as atopic conditions. A tendency for atopic conditions can run in families.

What are the symptoms of hayfever?

Symptoms of hayfever or seasonal allergies can include:

  • Stuffy nose, runny nose or sneezing a lot

  • Itchy or red eyes

  • Sore throat

  • Itching of the throat or ears

  • Waking up at night or trouble sleeping, which can cause you to feel tired during the day

Less commonly, hayfever can cause:

  • Loss of smell

  • Face pain

  • Sweats

  • Headache

Asthma symptoms such as wheezing or breathlessness may worsen during the hayfever season.

How is hayfever diagnosed?

Hayfever is usually diagnosed by your doctor on the basis of typical symptoms which occur during peak hayfever season. A family history of hayfever, asthma or eczema may help them to make this diagnosis.

Your doctor may decide to do other tests if the diagnosis is in doubt. This usually consist of a ‘skin prick’ test, where they will put a drop of the substance or material you may be allergic to on your skin, and make a tiny prink in the skin. They will then watch to see if your skin turns red or bumpy, and measure the size of the reaction to determine if you are allergic, and the severity of the allergy.

How is hayfever treated?

Commonly used treatments for hayfever include:

  • Antihistamine tablets: these can help stop itching, sneezing and runny nose symptoms, usually within 1 hour. Some antihistamine tablets can make people feel tired, so check with a medical professional prior to consuming these tablets.

  • Antihistamine nasal sprays: these can rapidly reduce the symptoms of hayfever (within 15 minutes), but may not help with easing congestion

  • Steroid nasal sprays: these can help with symptoms of hayfever, but may take a longer period of time to become effective (up to a few days).

  • Eye drops: these can be used to treat eye symptoms in addition to other medications. Always check with a pharmacist or GP before combining medications.

  • Nasal saline washouts: these devices can be used to rinse out pollen and other irritants from the nose.

Have a chat with your GP about various treatments available for hayfever, and which may best suit your lifestyle and other medical conditions.

Immunosensitisation (desensitisation) is sometimes used, mainly when cases are severe and not helped by other treatments. This is done by giving small doses of the allergen (in this case pollen), either into the tissue or under the tongue, over a long period of time to reduce the allergic response of the body. Immunotherapy is supervised by a specialise after careful assessment, and is not suitable for everyone. It is unlikely to completely cure hayfever but can reduce the severity of symptoms.

Can hayfever be prevented?

Avoiding pollen or irritants can help with hayfever symptoms, however it is impossible to avoid all pollen. When the pollen count is high, the following tips may help with your symptoms:

  • Stay indoors as much as possible and keep the doors/windows shut

  • Avoid cutting grass, large grassy places and camping

  • Shower and wash your hair after being outdoors, especially after going to the countryside

  • Wear wraparound sunglasses when you are out

  • Try to keep car windows closed as much as possible when driving


Harding M 2015, Hay Fever, Patient, retrieved online 2/1/18, retrieved from < https://patient.info/health/hay-fever-leaflet >

Crowly K, Martin KA 2017, Patient education: Seasonal allergies in adults (The Basics), retrieved online 2/1/18, retrieved from < https://www-uptodate-com.proxy.library.adelaide.edu.au/contents/seasonal-allergies-in-adults-the-basics?search=hayfever&source=search_result&selectedTitle=3~150&usage_type=default&display_rank=3#H566815453 >

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