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Symptoms, Causes & Treatment of Hay Fever

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When the pollen count starts to soar, around one in five people in the UK know they will have to deal with hay fever.

One of the most common allergies in the UK, hay fever can be a real nuisance, particularly in the summer months. As sufferers will know, it can affect sleep, make it difficult to concentrate on everyday tasks and, in severe cases, require time off work or school.

But how do you know if you have hay fever, and most importantly, how do you deal with it?

symptoms of hay fever

Symptoms of Hay Fever

The severity of hay fever symptoms varies from person to person. Typically, you will experience a combination of:

  • Sneezing
  • Runny nose
  • Blocked nose
  • Blocked sinuses
  • Itchy eyes, nose and/or mouth
  • Watering eyes
  • Coughing caused by mucus build-up
  • Facial discomfort

If you’re an asthma sufferer, hay fever might act as a trigger for your symptoms, or make them worse than usual. In this situation, it’s important to manage your symptoms properly to avoid an asthma attack.

In rare cases, you might experience severe fatigue that makes it difficult to function, or even lose your sense of smell.

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What Causes Hay Fever?

Like all allergies, hay fever occurs when the body overreacts to a perceived threat. Effectively, your immune system is fighting a virus that doesn’t exist. This explains why your symptoms might include a runny nose or your eyes watering - it’s your body trying to flush out the bad stuff it thinks you’re infected with.

It’s well known that pollen is to blame for hay fever. Pollen counts are part of your average weather forecast, so you’re at least able to prepare for the conditions you know will bring about your symptoms.

While many people think of hay fever as a summer problem, in fact it can occur throughout a much larger window during the year.

causes hay fever
man with hay fever

Hay fever is commonly associated with grass pollen, which does indeed peak between May and July. However, you might also be sensitive to tree pollen, which is most prevalent from February to June, or plant pollen, which is most likely to affect you between June and September.

Plenty of hay fever sufferers are only allergic to one of these types of pollen. If you’re unlucky enough to be allergic to all three, managing your symptoms can be a real challenge.

Regardless of the time of year, hot, dry days are also linked to a higher pollen count. That’s because a rainy day will wash all the pollen away. Perhaps those showers aren’t such a bad thing after all!

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How to Handle Hay Fever

Avoiding pollen is virtually impossible. It’s carried by the wind and as such can be found anywhere, even if there are no plants nearby, so the best thing you can do is take preventative measures to manage your symptoms.

We’ve already talked about pollen counts and it’s important you keep track of these. From here. It’s a case of planning ahead.

Over-the-counter antihistamines are the most common way to treat hay fever, but you should consider when your symptoms are likely to kick in. Try to take some around two weeks before your symptoms usually start to ensure your body is prepared for the particular pollen that affects you.

You must also be aware that whilst most antihistamines are non-drowsy they can cause tiredness in some people. If you experience these side effects, do not drive or operate machinery. Ask a doctor about a change in medication

girl dealing with hay fever
girl with blocked nose

If one of your symptoms is a blocked, stuffy nose, a nasal decongestant may also help relieve some of your discomfort.

If antihistamines don’t have an effect, it’s time to speak to a doctor. You might be prescribed corticosteroids to treat your symptoms, which can be given in the form of a nasal spray, nasal drops or tablets.

The side effects of steroids, which include weight gain and mood swings, are well known. For this reason, these treatments should not be used long term. Your doctor will advise you on the correct course of treatment and it’s very important not to exceed this.

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