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How to manage hay fever at home

The weather's getting warmer, and spending more time outside can be a fun but challenging time if you have hay fever. We share the best at home tips and natural hay fever remedies, for when your usual treatments aren't quite enough.

Depending on which type of pollen you're allergic to, you may experience hay fever symptoms at any point between the beginning of spring, right through to the end of summer. There are various hay fever treatments to help you manage these, but what if you're having a particularly bad hay fever day and you need a little extra help?

Dr Deborah Lee of Dr Fox Online Pharmacy and Mr Pavol Surda, an allergy and sinuses specialist and surgeon at London Bridge Hospital, share their top tips on managing hay fever symptoms: at home, with natural hay fever remedies, and when to turn to medicines.

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What is hay fever?

Dr Lee says: "Hay fever is caused by a seasonal allergy to pollen. It's incredibly common, affecting up to 1 in 3 people around the world."

"In the spring and summer, when certain trees and plants are producing pollen, causing unpleasant hay fever symptoms - most often, itchy eyes, runny eyes, and an itchy, runny nose."

In the UK, there are around 16 million hay fever sufferers1. Mr Surda explains that when pollen particles enter your nose it triggers an immune response, which leads to the symptoms you're so familiar with.

"During the introduction to a certain allergen, your immune system will decide whether to tolerate it or become sensitive. Becoming sensitive means that your immune system mistakes allergens like pollen for something the body needs to fight against - in turn, your body releases chemicals called histamines into the blood which trigger hay fever symptoms."

There are more than 30 different types of pollen known to cause hay fever:

  • Grass pollen is the most common with sufferers experiencing symptoms mostly from May to July.

  • Rapeseed causes symptoms between March and July.

  • Alder, hazel and yew pollens may be a problem between January and April.

  • Populus, ash, birch and plane pollens occur slightly later, between March and May.

Natural hay fever remedies

There are things you can do besides take medicine to prevent and soothe your hay fever symptoms.

Watch the pollen count

One of the best ways to manage your hay fever symptoms is to be aware of the pollen count, says Dr Lee.

"If you have hay fever and/or asthma, it's important to take extra care when the pollen count is high or very high," she says.

"The pollen count is affected by the weather. It is highest on hot, windy days and lowest when it is cooler and raining."

You can monitor when it's expected to be high, moderate, or low on apps.

Stay indoors when it's high

If you know the pollen count is going to be high, Dr Lee says one of the best things you can do is stay indoors as much as possible. It may sound simple, but this can shield irritated, itchy eyes and sensitive noses from airborne pollen particles.

Keep your home free from pollen

According to Dr Lee, during hay fever season this means:

  • Changing your clothes when you come in from outside.

  • Showering after you have been outside.

  • Vacuuming regularly and mopping the floors instead of sweeping to avoid dust.

  • Drying your washing inside the house.

  • Avoiding bringing fresh flowers into the house.

  • Keeping the windows closed as often as possible.

Surda says: "Where possible, you should avoid spending too much time outside, or leaving the doors and windows open too long in the house. Remember, pollen counts, are highest in the morning and at dusk. Pollen is released first thing, goes up in the air, then comes back down."

Dress for the occasion

Just as you dress up in warm layers during winter, during hay fever season you should leave the house with your eyes, nose and mouth covered and protected.

Dr Lee advises wearing wraparound sunglasses and using face masks that can filter pollen when out and about.

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Can antihistamines help hay fever symptoms?

Natural hay fever remedies and at-home tips are an important way to keep your symptoms in check, but for many people, this won't be enough.

The most effective way to manage your hay fever symptoms with medicine is to take antihistamines. These reduce the body's natural immune response - or histamines - that are released when the body comes into contact with a trigger like pollen.

"Antihistamines are the most common hay fever treatments. They work by preventing the release of histamine," says Dr Lee.

"They can be taken as tablets, liquids, syrups, eye drops, nasal sprays, creams, and lotions. But they need to be used on time and regularly to keep their effects ongoing. If you miss out on a dose, you will be too late to prevent the release of histamine, and symptoms will most likely start."

Surda says that a combination of antihistamine tablets, nasal spray and eye drops are the most effective hay fever treatment. "Ask your pharmacist for non-drowsy antihistamines containing loratadine or cetirizine," he says.

  • Hay fever tablets: non-drowsy such as those containing cetirizine or fexofenadine; drowsy ones are those containing chlorphenamine or promethazine

  • Nasal sprays - "nasal corticosteroid sprays are best for treating nose symptoms. They become highly effective after 3 - 4 days of use," says Surda

  • Eye drops for itchy and watery eyes - "sodium cromoglycate eye drops prevent your body from releasing histamine. These can be applied, two drops in each eye, four times a day," says Dr Lee.

According to Dr Lee, hay fever treatment is usually offered depending on the type of symptoms and the severity. For example, a person who only has eye symptoms might just be given eye drops. Someone who has runny, itchy eyes and nose, plus other generalised symptoms, would be offered antihistamine tablets, as well as eye drops and a nasal spray. Your pharmacist can advise.

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If you are still suffering despite trying to manage at home, book in with your doctor to discuss other options. If you also suffer from asthma, it's important you speak to your doctor about how hay fever symptoms might trigger asthma, and how you can prevent a serious flare-up.

Some medications otherwise only available on prescription are available to buy from pharmacists via an online consultation through Patient Access.

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Further reading

  1. Natasha Allergy Research Foundation: Allergies - the facts.

Article history

The information on this page is peer reviewed by qualified clinicians.

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