Hay Fever

Hay fever is the common name for a condition called allergic rhinitis, which means an allergy that affects the nose.

Hay fever is caused by your nose and/or eyes coming into contact with environmental allergens, such as pollens, dust mites, mould, animal hair and sometimes chemicals.

Most of us associate hay fever with spring, when airborne grass pollens are at their peak. This is known as seasonal allergic rhinitis or spring hay fever. However, hay fever can occur at any time of the year. When symptoms occur all year round, this is known as perennial allergic rhinitis. Perennial allergic rhinitis is usually caused by a reaction to allergens around the home, such as dust mites, mould, animal hair or fur, or occupational allergens.

Symptoms of hay fever may include

  • sneezing
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • itchy ears, nose and throat
  • red, itchy or watery eyes
  • headaches

In some cases, the symptoms of hay fever can be so severe that you  can’t sleep or concentrate, and may feel tired or unwell.

Hay fever and COVID-19

Some of the symptoms of COVID-19 are also symptoms of hay fever. Please remember that as per the Department of Health guidelines, if you have any of the following

  • fever
  • chills or sweats
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • shortness of breath
  • runny nose
  • loss or change in sense of smell or taste

they must self isolate and get tested for COVID-19.

Treatments for hay fever

For some of us hay fever may be mild, seasonal, and easily treated with over-the-counter products from the pharmacy.
For others, symptoms may be more severe and unresponsive to over the counter treatments. Symptoms of hay fever can also be similar to symptoms of other conditions such as colds, flu, other infections and reactions to medications.

If the allergen causing your symptoms is known, try to limit exposure as much as possible. This may include keeping track of the forecast pollen count and staying indoors on high pollen days.

Over the counter treatments include oral antihistamines, antihistamine nasal sprays, corticosteroid nasal sprays and antihistamine eye drops. Saline nasal sprays and eye drops can be used to support other treatment options.

Antihistamines block the action of histamine, which is released in allergic inflammatory reactions, therefore reducing the allergic response.

Corticosteroid nasal sprays inhibit the onset of local inflammatory responses at a cellular level, reducing the inflammatory symptoms of hay fever.

Helpful tips

  • Antihistamines are less effective for blocked noses, whereas corticosteroid nasal sprays are more helpful.
  • Oral antihistamines are generally more effective for symptoms involving the eyes than nasal sprays.
  • Antihistamine tablets and nasal sprays have a fast onset of action, whereas corticosteroid based nasal sprays have a slow onset of action.
  • For more severe symptoms occurring seasonally (e.g. in spring) and related to pollen exposure, starting an intranasal corticosteroid at least two weeks before the onset of the relevant pollen season is recommended.
  • Saline nasal sprays are recommended to use immediately prior to using a corticosteroid or antihistamine nasal spray, as they help to clear the nasal passage for more effective absorption of the active ingredients
  • Allergic conjunctivitis can be a symptom in some patients with allergic rhinitis. Oral antihistamines, intranasal corticosteroids and saline (sodium chloride solution) eye drops may be adequate to reduce symptoms; otherwise, antihistamine eye drops can also be used.

Sources: Better Health Victoria website and the Therapeutic Guidelines