Hay fever is a type of allergic rhinitis caused by pollen or spores. Allergic rhinitis is a condition where an allergen (something that causes an allergic reaction) makes the inside of your nose inflamed (swollen).
Hay fever affects the nose, sinuses (small air-filled cavities behind your cheekbones and forehead), throat and eyes.
• a runny nose,
• and itchy eyes.
Hay fever usually occurs in spring and summer, when there is more pollen in the air. Trees, grass and plants release pollen as part of their reproductive process. Mould and fungi also release tiny reproductive particles, called spores.
People with hay fever can experience their symptoms at different times of the year, depending on which pollens or spores they are allergic to.
Allergic rhinitis can be classified as either intermittent or persistent, depending on how often people experience their symptoms (see box, left)
The symptoms of hay fever occur when the immune system (the body’s defence system) overreacts to a normally harmless substance, in this case pollen. When the body comes into contact with pollen, cells in the lining of the nose, mouth and eyes release a chemical called histamine. This triggers the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
How common is it?
Hay fever is a common condition that affects around 20% of people in the UK. Hay fever is more likely if there is a family history of allergies, particularly asthma or eczema.
In England, there may be over 10 million people with hay fever.
Hay fever cannot be cured completely, but there are a number of treatments available to relieve the symptoms. These include antihistamine tablets, nasal (nose) sprays and eye drops. Some can only be prescribed by a GP, but many are available over-the-counter (OTC) at our pharmacy.