Understanding Hay Fever: Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention

What is Hay Fever?

Hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, is a common condition caused by an allergic reaction to airborne allergens such as pollen, dust mites and pet dander.

The hay fever season lasts for as long as allergens are present in the air but it is usually worse between late March and September, especially when it is warm, humid and windy!

The types of pollen in the air change over the course of the season as different plants and trees produce their pollen at different times. So you may not be affected for the whole season if you are only allergic to one type of pollen.

Symptoms of hay fever include:

  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • A runny or congested nose
  • Itchy, red or watery eyes
  • Swollen eyes
  • Itchy throat, mouth, nose and ears

Prevention and Self-Help Measures

There are several self-help measures that can minimise your exposure to pollen and reduce hay fever symptoms. They include:

  • Staying inside during summer months between 5pm and 7pm, when pollen counts are usually high.
  • Keep windows and doors closed, especially between 5pm and 7pm, and when sleeping.
  • Shower and change your clothes after you have been outside to wash pollen off.
  • When possible, use an air conditioner or filter at home, work and in the car, to remove pollen and other allergens from the air.
  • Damp dust and vacuum your home regularly to reduce the level of pollen and dust.
  • Avoid areas of high pollen concentration such as long grass, lawn mowings and wooded areas (if sensitive to tree pollen).
  • If working in high pollen areas, consider wearing a mask and goggles.
  • Avoid additional airborne irritants such as smoke and chemical fumes.
  • If driving, keep your car windows closed.
  • Wear sunglasses to reduce the risk of eye irritation.
  • Keep pets out of bedrooms as they can carry pollen on their coats.
  • Vaseline can help to trap pollen if put around your nostrils.

Hay fever can be treated for FREE in the pharmacy on the Common Ailment Scheme

No GP appointment necessary! Pop in store for more information.


Medicinal treatment options for hay fever can include:

Oral Antihistamines

Antihistamines are effective in controlling sneezing, itching and runny noses. They should be taken as advised by the pharmacist or doctor, or as described in the patient information leaflet.

Antihistamines are usually divided into 2 main groups:

Sedating Antihistamines

These antihistamines cause drowsiness – such as chlorphenamine (Piriton) and promethazine.

Non-Sedating Antihistamines

These antihistamines are less likely to cause drowsiness – these include loratadine, cetirizine, acrivastine and fexofenadine. Please note that drowsiness is still a possible side effect of any antihistamine.

Which antihistamine is best?

There isn’t a lot of evidence to suggest that any antihistamine is better than another. No antihistamine has a guaranteed effect on a person – it’s all about finding what works best for you!

Antihistamines should ideally be taken before the symptoms are expected in order to prevent them occurring, but they will still treat acute attacks.

It is advisable to try a non-sedating antihistamine first since it is typically less likely to cause drowsiness. However, if your hay fever symptoms are worse at night and stop you from sleeping, a drowsy antihistamine may be preferred.

Speak to a member of our team if you are new to taking antihistamines or if you are unsure on what would be best for you – we are more than happy to help!

Most people can safety take antihistamines. Make sure to get further advice if you:

  • Are pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Need treatment for a young child
  • Are taking other medications
  • Have an underlying health condition, such as heart disease, liver disease, kidney disease or epilepsy
Steroid Nasal Sprays

These are anti-inflammatory medicines that you spray into your nose. They may take several days to work, potentially taking up to 2 weeks to achieve maximum benefit. They are best when started at the beginning of hayfever season to prevent symptoms as they are relatively ineffective at dealing with immediate acute symptoms. It is important to use your steroid nasal spray as directed, even when you’re feeling better, as it will only help if it is used every day.

Decongestant Nasal Sprays

Decongestant nasal sprays provide short-term, fast acting relief for nasal congestion but are no use in preventing hay fever symptoms. These nasal sprays can only be used for a maximum of 7 days. Please check the patient information leaflet before starting treatment. 

Antihistamine Nasal Sprays

An antihistamine nasal spray can help with symptoms such as sneezing, a runny, stuffy or itchy nose and even itchy, watery eyes caused by hay fever and other allergies!

Using your nasal spray incorrectly can reduce its’ effectiveness. Allergy UK have a handy how to guide to help promote correct use:

Eye Drops

Sodium cromoglicate is the most common eye drop used for allergic conjunctivitis. Consistent use of this eye drop can effectively alleviate most hay fever symptoms related to the eyes, although it may take several days to reach its full effectiveness.

Antazoline is an antihistamine that is applied topically to the eyes. It is very effective at treating itchy eyes and can be found in combination with a topical decongestant.

What is the Common Ailment Scheme?

The Common Ailment Scheme is a service whereby patients can get free NHS advice and treatment from the pharmacy for a range of minor ailments. The list of ailments includes hay fever, head lice, athlete’s foot, conjunctivitis, scabies and many more! If you would like more information:

Call us on 02920 734 009 or speak to a member of staff in store!