Symptoms of Hay Fever

Hay fever is a common condition that affects around one in four people in the UK. It can be very irritating, and can cause itchiness, sneezing, and headaches. Hay fever is usually triggered by tree or grass pollen, and gets worse between late March and September when pollen counts are at their highest.

Read more to learn about the symptoms of hay fever, how long they last, and what you can do about them.

What Are the Symptoms of Hay Fever?

The most common symptoms of hay fever include:

  • coughing and sneezing
  • blocked or runny nose
  • itchy nose, mouth, throat and ears
  • red, itchy or watery eyes
  • tiredness
  • headache
  • earache
  • loss of smell

People with asthma who get hay fever might also experience worsening of their asthma symptoms including:

  • shortness of breath
  • tightness in the chest
  • wheezing

These symptoms can be similar to a common cold. A cold usually lasts 1 to 2 weeks, whereas hay fever can last weeks or months depending on the cause. If you notice any worsening of your asthma symptoms you should follow your personalised asthma management plan and contact your GP to talk about your treatment. The symptoms of hay fever can also impact other areas of your health.

  1. It can be challenging to get quality sleep when coughing, sneezing, and itching.
  2. Hay fever can trigger asthma attacks because it affects your airways. People with asthma have inflamed airways and hay fever can cause these airways to swell further which makes it harder to breathe.
  3. Hay fever can also impact the mucus draining from within the nasal passages. The mucus then blocks up, which can lead to sinusitis or an infection of the middle ear. Ear infections are more common in children because their passages are smaller and easier to block.

How Does Hay Fever Affect Your Eyes?

Hay fever can make your eyes red, itchy, swollen and watery. Some people also report a gritty or burning sensation in their eyes. These symptoms are caused by the conjunctiva (the transparent membrane covering the white of the eye) becoming inflamed as part of the body’s allergic response to pollen.

You can treat hay fever symptoms in your eyes using eye drops and antihistamine medication.

How Does Hay Fever Affect Your Nose?

Hay fever can give you a blocked or runny nose. This is because histamine can make the inside layer of your nose swell, causing a blockage. Your nose runs because histamine makes your body create too much mucus.

You may find yourself sneezing more than usual as your body tries to get rid of the pollen in your system. The pollen can also make your nose itchy.

Some people also experience nosebleeds. This is because the reaction to pollen can make the membranes in your nose drier, and ongoing sneezing and nose-blowing can damage those dry tissues.

The treatment for the nasal symptoms of hayfever includes antihistamines or steroid nasal sprays.

How Does Hay Fever Affect Your Throat?

Hay fever can make your throat sore, itchy and dry. These symptoms are caused by inflammation of the inside of your throat and can be made worse by a post nasal drip, which is when mucus produced in the nose drains down to the throat. The postnasal drip can also cause a cough as your body tries to clear the excess mucus.

Drinking plenty of fluids and taking antihistamines if you are able to can make your symptoms feel better.

How Does Hay Fever Affect Your Skin?

Hay fever can cause an itchy rash or hives (raised red patches or spots). This is less common than other hay fever symptoms and occurs because the histamine reacts with your skin's outer layer, making it inflamed and itchy.

You might think that you only get the rash if you have touched the allergen that causes your hay fever, but you can still get a rash if you inhale the allergen. It depends on how your body reacts to the histamine in your system.

Treatments for skin problems caused by hay fever include antihistamine tablets available over the counter and in stronger versions by prescription. You can also try cold compresses and calamine lotion to cool the skin. If you have hives with breathing problems or swelling in your lips or face this can be a sign of a more severe allergic reaction and you should contact 999 or attend A&E.

If you have think you might have a skin condition but you’re not sure what’s wrong, you can try our photo diagnosis service. Our doctors can diagnose a skin condition by looking at a photo of the affected area and recommend a treatment if required.

How Does Hay Fever Affect Your Breathing?

If you have asthma, hay fever can make your breathing harder and cause the following symptoms:

  • shortness of breath and breathlessness
  • chest tightness
  • dry cough and wheezing

The mucus created in the nasal passages by hay fever can cause a phlegm cough as your body is trying to clear the excess mucus.

People with asthma already have inflamed airways, so the additional swelling from the hay fever reaction makes breathing more difficult than usual.

If you have asthma, using your inhalers and following your personalised asthma management plan can help manage the breathing difficulties associated with hay fever. If your breathing symptoms don’t improve with your inhalers you should see a doctor immediately.

Hay Fever or a Cold?

Many hay fever symptoms are similar to those of a common cold.

If you have hay fever rather than a common cold, the following might apply to you:

  • your symptoms start immediately following exposure to pollen or another trigger
  • the mucus you produce is thinner and watery, compared to a thicker mucus if you have a cold
  • your symptoms usually last for several weeks (cold symptoms usually clear up within a week)
  • you do not have a fever (mild fever can be a symptom of a cold)

If you are unsure if your symptoms are hay fever or a cold, talk to your doctor or pharmacist and check government COVID-19 guidelines on testing and isolation.

What Can Trigger Hay Fever Symptoms?

Hay fever happens when your body reacts to an allergen. The most common trigger for hay fever symptoms is pollen. Pollen is the delicate powder plants create when they are reproducing.

Other allergens can trigger hay fever symptoms:

  • mould or fungi
  • pet fur or danger (the flecks of skin shed by animals with fur or feathers)
  • dust mites
  • cigarette smoke
  • perfume
  • pollution

Hay fever symptoms are triggered because your body thinks these substances are harmful so it produces antibodies to defend itself. These antibodies tell your body to produce histamine, which causes hay fever symptoms.

When Do Hay Fever Symptoms Get Worse?

The pollen season

Hay fever symptoms are usually worse between late March and September when more plants are around. This is called the pollen season.

There are different types of pollen:

  • Grass pollen: most common trigger, highest between mid-May and July
  • Tree pollen: highest between late March and mid-May
  • Weed pollen: highest between March and September


Many people find that their hay fever symptoms are worse at night. There are three reasons this can happen:

  • Your hay fever is triggered by dust mites or mould spores in items in your bedroom such as your bedding, mattress, curtains or carpets.
  • Pollen particles suspended in the air during hot days fall as the temperature cools at night and come into contact with your body as you sleep.
  • Lying down can worsen your symptoms as the mucus in your nasal passage drips into your throat, making you cough more and your throat sore.

When Should I See a Doctor About My Hay Fever Symptoms?

There is no cure for hay fever, but treatments can help you manage it. A pharmacist can advise on over-the-counter therapies which can help with mild symptoms.

Speak to your doctor about your hay fever symptoms if:

  • they are getting worse
  • you are finding it harder to handle their impact on your daily life, for example disrupted sleep
  • you are already treating them following advice from a pharmacist, and they are not getting better
  • you are experiencing complications as a result of your hay fever, such as your asthma getting worse or repeated episodes of sinusitis
  • the pattern of your symptoms is unusual, such as only occurring in specific locations or winter rather than summer
  • you are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • you have pre-existing health conditions or take medications which mean you can’t buy hayfever treatment over the counter

How to Get Rid of Hay Fever Symptoms

Understanding what triggers your symptoms and avoiding the allergens as much as possible is one way to minimise your hay fever symptoms.

The following tips can help:

  • use Vaseline around your nose (to stop the allergens entering your nasal passage)
  • wear wraparound sunglasses (to prevent the allergens from coming into contact with your eyes)
  • monitor the pollen count in your local area and stay indoors when it is high
  • shower and wash your clothes when you come inside after being outdoors
  • dry your clothes inside
  • don’t keep flowers inside your home
  • avoid walking on recently cut grass
  • avoid smoke and smoking yourself as this can make your symptoms worse
  • keep pets outside if possible during pollen season (as they can bring pollen into the house)
  • a simple saline rinse can help clear the mucus in your nasal passages

Home remedies for hay fever

Hay fever is a common condition, and there are many suggestions for home remedies that can help manage them. Unfortunately none have been backed up by medical studies as effective treatments for hayfever. Some of these include:

  • herbal teas such as liquorice, chamomile and nettle tea contain natural antihistamines and antioxidants, and the warm liquid can soothe your throat and clear your nose
  • garlic and onion contain quercetin which has anti-inflammatory properties
  • turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties
  • eating local honey can help build your body’s resistance to local pollen

Hay fever treatment

There is no cure for hayfever but you can get treatment both over the counter from a pharmacist and as prescription medication from a doctor.

The most common medication for hay fever is an antihistamine. These block the chemical histamine from affecting your body. It is histamine that causes the symptoms of hayfever as it is released when your body reacts to something it perceives as harmful. Antihistamines can be given as a nasal spray, eye drops or tablets.

Eye drops

Eye drops can be either those that lubricate the eye and calm the irritation or antihistamine drops which block the histamine release in your eyes. Antihistamine drops are available over the counter or in a stronger strength as a prescription. Sodium cromoglycate eye drops are also available over the counter to treat hayfever symptoms.

Nasal sprays

Nasal sprays are available both as saline sprays which you can buy over the counter, and corticosteroid sprays such as Nasonex which you need a prescription to buy. Nasonex takes 12 to 48 hours to work and reduces the swelling inside your nose, which stops symptoms like itchiness, runny nose and sneezing. Some other steroid nasal sprays are available over the counter.

Oral medication

Hay fever medication you can buy over the counter includes brand names such as Piriton, Clarityn, Zirtek and Benadryl.

If the over-the-counter medications are not helping your symptoms, doctors can prescribe stronger antihistamines in tablets such as Telfast and Neoclarityn. You can get prescription hayfever treatment for these without a face-to-face consultation through Superdrug Online Doctor. Our doctors will ask you to complete a brief medical questionnaire, assess your situation, and quickly issue a prescription if this is suitable for you.

Telfast and Neoclarityn both work within one to three hours of taking them and do not usually cause drowsiness.

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding you should speak to your doctor before taking hayfever medication to check which would be most suitable for you.

If your hay fever symptoms are very severe, there is also an option called immunotherapy. This is a specialised service and only carried out when the hay fever symptoms are very severe. Patients are given small amounts of pollen to slowly build up their immunity.


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Hay fever NHS 2021 [accessed 3 February 2022]

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Olopatadine eye drops for hay fever Patient Info [accessed 3 February 2022]

Pollen triggers [accessed 3 February 2022]

Quercetin, Inflammation and Immunity NCBI 2016 [accessed 3 February 2022]

Allergic Rhinitis NICE [accessed 17 February 2022]

Patient Reviews