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It’s that time of year when the sniffles and sneezes are at a high. Whilst summer is a joy to most, the effects of hay fever can leave many unable to enjoy the season of summer.

But what is hay fever? Hay fever is an allergic rhinitis and is an allergic reaction that occurs when the immune system overreacts to allergens present in the air.

When you have hay fever, your immune system identifies a harmless airborne substance as being harmful. This substance is called allergen. Your immune system is how your body protects itself, so it produces immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies to protect against this allergen. The next time you come in contact with the allergen, these antibodies signal your immune system to release chemicals such as histamine into your blood stream. This causes a reaction that leads to the symptoms of hay fever.

Hay fever symptoms

Symptoms are 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.

Hay fever can last for weeks or months, unlike a cold, which usually goes away after 1 to 2 weeks.

Reducing quality of life

When you suffer with hay fever it can reduce the quality of life – have fever can interfere with your enjoyment of activities and causes you to be less productive.

Worsening Asthma

Hay fever can worsen symptoms of asthma, such as coughing and wheezing.

Sinusitis

Prolonged sinus congestion due to hay fever may increase your risk of getting sinusitis – an infection or inflammation of the membrane that lines the sinuses.

Ear infection

In children, hay fever often is a factor in middle ear infection (otitis media)

How to treat hay fever yourself

There is no cure for hay fever and you cannot prevent it.

But there are things you can do that will ease your symptoms when the pollen count is high.

Do Not…

Treatments for hay fever from a GP

Your GP may prescribe a steroid treatment if you have hay fever and can’t find relief from any other source.

If steroids and other hay fever treatments do not work, the GP may refer you for immunotherapy.

This means you’ll be given small amounts of pollen as an injection or tablet to slowly build up your immunity to pollen.

This kind of treatment usually starts a few months before the hay fever season begins.

Immunotherapy is a specialist service that may not be available everywhere.

How to tell the difference between a cold and hay fever

ConditionSymptomsOnsetDuration
Hay fever        Runny nose with thin, watery discharge, No feverImmediately after exposure to allergensAs long as you’re exposed to allergens
Common cold        Runny nose with watery or thick yellow discharge, body aches, low-grade fever1 to 3 days after exposure to a cold virus3 to 7 days

Alternative remedies

There are a number of natural remedies that can be used to treat hay fever symptoms. Some treatments that can improve symptoms including extracts of the shrub butterbur, spirulina (a type of dried algae) and other herbal remedies. There isn’t enough evidence or testing to say whether they demonstrate safety and effectiveness, but natural remedies are always worth trying – but always check if you are on any prescribed medication as to whether they are compatible taking together.