Two Jars of Honey with a honey dipper

What are the causes of hay fever?

Hay fever is an allergy, which means your immune system mistakenly identifies a harmless substance – in this case pollen – as a threat and reacts as it would to viruses or bacteria, releasing an onslaught of chemicals to fight it off.

The classic hay fever symptoms of sneezing, a runny nose and itchy eyes are the result of your immune system’s overreaction to pollen.

Hay fever treatment

Unfortunately, there’s no cure for hay fever, but you can manage it with a number of hay fever treatments.

The chemicals released in hay fever include histamines, so antihistamines – which block the effect of histamines – are often prescribed, in the form of pills, nasal sprays and eye drops. Corticosteroids, which help reduce inflammation, can also help.

The pollen factor

Different people are allergic to different pollens, which is why your symptoms can be worse at certain times of the year.

Tree pollen is released during the spring, grass pollen in late spring and early summer, and weed pollen throughout early spring to late autumn. Grass pollen is responsible in about 95 per cent of hay fever cases.

Some years are worse than others for hay fever sufferers, and that is determined by the pollen count and weather conditions. For example, on a very warm, sunny but breezy day, lots of pollen is released and moves around easily, while on a rainy day, some pollen gets cleared from the air.

You may also find your symptoms are worse early in the morning and late in the afternoon, as these are the times plants release most of their pollen.

How to prevent hay fever symptoms

One good basic tip is to reduce your exposure to pollen as much as possible.

You could try:

  • wearing wraparound sunglasses to stop pollen getting into your eyes when you’re outdoors
  • showering and changing your clothes after being outside, to remove any traces of pollen from your body
  • smearing petroleum jelly around your nostrils to stop pollen creeping up your nose
  • keeping your windows shut during the day
  • staying indoors when pollen counts are high (above 50)
  • avoiding hair sprays and gels, which pollens can cling to

Natural remedies for hay fever

If you don’t want to take medicine all spring and summer, there are lots of ways you can help yourself naturally.

  • Eat local honey There’s a theory that exposure to small amounts of pollen in locally produced honey may desensitise you. Ideally, start two months before the pollen season.
  • Tackle stress Stress may worsen hay fever symptoms, according to research. Try unwinding with yoga, meditation or tai chi.
  • Get your vitamin D Some studies have connected low levels of vitamin D with hay fever and other allergies, so get out for a daylight walk, with your skin exposed and without sunscreen, for about 10 minutes each day.
  • Try acupuncture. Research shows regular sessions may reduce the need for hay fever medicine.

Get more ways to beat your allergies in our fact-packed advice guides.

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This article has been adapted from longer features appearing in Healthy, the Holland & Barrett magazine. Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies

Hay Fever