What is Hay fever?
Hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen, usually when it comes into contact with your mouth, nose, eyes and throat. Pollen is a fine powder from plants. Other allergens can cause similar symptoms to hay fever such as dust mites, animal hairs and fungi spores. Often this would also be referred to as hay fever as the symptoms are similar. In these scenarios the treatments recommended would be the same however the preventative actions to avoid the allergen would be different.
Hay fever is 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.
Besides making you miserable, hay fever can affect your performance at work or school and generally interfere with your life. But you don't have to put up with annoying symptoms. You can learn to avoid triggers and find the right treatment.
What are the symptoms of Hay fever?
The symptoms of hay fever can include one or a combination of symptoms. Symptoms tend to be worse during early morning and late afternoons between March and September. The most common symptoms of hay fever are:
- sneezing and coughing
- a runny or blocked nose
- itchy, red or watery eyes
- itchy throat, mouth, nose and ears
- loss of smell
- pain around your temples and forehead
- feeling tired
But why does it happen?
When you have hay fever, your immune system identifies a harmless airborne substance as harmful. Your immune system then produces antibodies to this harmless substance. The next time you come in contact with the substance, these antibodies signal your immune system to release chemicals such as histamine into your bloodstream, which cause a reaction that leads to the signs and symptoms of hay fever.
What can I do to prevent the symptoms of Hay fever?
There is no specific cure for Hay fever. However, there are a number of things you can do to try and prevent the symptoms happening or getting worse when they do. These are:
- put Vaseline or a balm around your nostrils to trap pollen
- wear wraparound sunglasses to stop pollen getting into your eyes
- shower and change your clothes after you've been outside to wash the pollen off
- stay indoors whenever possible when the pollen count is at its highest
- keep windows and doors shut as much as possible
- vacuum often
- dust with a damp cloth
- buy a pollen filter for the air vents in your car
- buy a vacuum cleaner with a special HEPA filter (these can trap pollutants)
To ease your hay fever symptoms, do not:
- cut grass or walk on grass that has recently been cut
- spend too much time outside when the pollen count is high
- keep fresh flowers in the house
- smoke or be around smoke – it makes your symptoms worse
- dry clothes outside – they can catch pollen
- let pets into the house if possible – they can carry pollen indoors
It is often impossible to completely remove the allergens that cause hay fever from your life. Taking preventative steps where possible may mean that the symptoms of hay fever happen with less frequency and when they do are less severe. When these symptoms do happen speaking to your pharmacist about the treatments suitable for you can help.
How do I know when the pollen count is high?
There are several online resources you can use to find the pollen count for a specific day in your region. These tend to run from May to September when the pollen count is normally at its highest. These pollen counts can be a signal that you may need to take extra precautions to avoid triggering the symptoms of hay fever.
Pollen Forecast - Met Éireann - The Irish Meteorological Service
Asthma & Hayfever: Pollen Tracker | Asthma Society of Ireland
Which pollen allergy do I have?
There are three main types of pollen, tree grass and weed. These are active at different times of year:
- Tree pollen is usually around late March to mid-May
- Grass pollen is prevalent mid-May to July
- Weed pollen is from the end of June to September.
Knowing which type of pollen you’re allergic to can help you be prepared and stocked up with allergy treatment.
How do I know if I have a cold or hay fever?
This can be tricky as hay fever is often referred to as a ‘Summer Cold’. There are some key differences in the symptoms and duration of symptoms that will allow you to decide whether you have a cold or hay fever.
Signs and symptoms
Runny nose with thin, watery discharge; no fever
Immediately after exposure to allergens
As long as you're exposed to allergens
Runny nose with watery or thick yellow discharge; body aches; low-grade fever
One to three days after exposure to a cold virus
Three to seven days
I have asthma. Should I be worried about hay fever?
Many people with asthma suffer from hay fever, whether seasonally or all year round. It's not uncommon for uncontrolled hay fever to lead to an increase in asthma symptoms and as such, managing your hay fever is a key part of controlling your asthma.
Hay fever is very common in Ireland and up to 80% of people who have asthma also have this condition. Both asthma and hay fever are caused by an allergic reaction and are related conditions linked by a common airway. Many of the same allergens are known to trigger asthma and hay fever.
- If hay fever is treated effectively it could reduce asthma symptoms and may even help prevent the development of asthma.
- If you have asthma, hay fever can make your symptoms worse, so the most important step you can take ahead of the pollen season is to make sure your asthma is under control. You can talk to your pharmacist or GP about your asthma and hay fever.
I think my child has hay fever, what should I do?
With all childhood conditions, the correct diagnosis is key to minimising the effects. Symptoms of hay fever normally take place between March and September when pollen is at its highest. If the symptoms take place all year round, then it may be a sign of another allergen causing the symptoms. Keeping a diary of your child’s activities may help isolate the allergen or when your child is coming into contact with the triggers of hay fever. All the same preventative actions to help minimise the symptoms of hay fever apply to children. Your pharmacist can recommend treatments for children one year and above to help control the symptoms of hay fever. Talk to your pharmacist about your childs symptoms and the treatments available.
Can I treat my hay fever safely while I’m pregnant?
The answer is yes! However, we would always advise talking to your GP before taking any medication while pregnant. Your GP is best placed to decide on the risks versus benefits of treating hay fever in pregnancy. Your GP may decide to treat only if the symptoms are severe. Like with Hay fever in children, preventative steps should be taken to limit your exposure to allergens.
What are the treatments available?
There are a number of OTC treatments to help with the symptoms of hay fever. Often you will need to try one or a combination of products to find your complete solution to your hay fever symptoms. Your pharmacist will be able to talk you through the available treatments that suit your symptoms and are safe for you.
One of the most common treatment options for hay fever are antihistamines. Antihistamines work by blocking the effect (such as runny nose, sneezing) of histamine on the body. Different antihistamines include fexofenadine, cetirizine and loratadine and can be in the form of tablets or liquids for children above one year and older. The majority of these anti-histamines are taken once a day and tend not to cause drowsiness. Some hay fever suffers begin taking these treatments at the start of the hay fever season to avoid the symptoms coming on.
Another effective treatment for hay fever is corticosteroid (steroid) nasal sprays such as Beclometasone Dipropionate also known as Beconase and Fluticasone Propionate also known as Flixonase, which work by suppressing the immune system’s response before the histamine is released. These nasal sprays help to relieve the nasal congestion associated with hay fever.
Eyedrops containing sodium cromoglicate are also effective in reducing the inflammation in your eyes. This will help treat any redness, itchiness or watering frequently associated with hay fever and household allergies. These also come in the form of single use eye drops for customers that may have sensitivities to certain eye drop excipients. There are also soothing eye drops available that don’t contain the sodium cromoglicate active ingredient.
Hay fever Wipes and Balms
Hay fever wipes are quick and easy way to remove pollen and other allergens from the face and hands. Hay fever balms are rubbed into the base of the nose and prevent the pollen from being inhaled and triggering the hay fever reaction.
Hay Fever Treatments available at McCauley Pharmacy:
- Beconase Nasal Spray
- Flixonase Nasal Spray
- Opticrom unit dose and non-unit dose
- Vividrin eye drops
- Becodefence Kids
- Becodefence Plus
- Full Sterimar Range
- Nuage Balm