Hay fever is a common allergic condition that affects up to one in five people at some point in their life.

Symptoms of hay fever include:

  • sneezing
  • a runny nose
  • itchy eyes

You'll experience hay fever symptoms if you have an allergic reaction to pollen.

Pollen is a fine powder released by plants as part of their reproductive cycle. It contains proteins that can cause the nose, eyes, throat and sinuses (small air-filled cavities behind your cheekbones and forehead) to become swollen, irritated and inflamed.

You can have an allergy to:

  • tree pollen, released during spring
  • grass pollen, released during the end of spring and beginning of summer
  • weed pollen, released late autumn

Read more about the causes of hay fever.

Many people find their symptoms improve as they get older. Around half of people report some improvement in symptoms after several years. Symptoms disappear completely in around 10-20% of people.

Hay fever treatment

There's currently no cure for hay fever, but most people are able to relieve symptoms with treatment, at least to a certain extent.

The most effective way to control hay fever would be to avoid exposure to pollen. However, it's very difficult to avoid pollen, particularly during the summer months when you want to spend more time outdoors.

Treatment options for hay fever include antihistamines, which can help to prevent an allergic reaction from occurring and corticosteroids (steroids), which help to reduce inflammation and swelling.

Hay fever can often be controlled using over-the-counter medication from your pharmacist. However, if your symptoms are more troublesome it’s worth speaking to your GP, as you may require prescription medication.

For severe and persistent hay fever, there's also a type of treatment called immunotherapy. It involves being exposed to small amounts of pollen over time, to build resistance to its allergic effects. However, this can take many months or even years to work.

Read more about treating hay fever.

Who's affected

Hay fever is one of the most common allergic conditions. It's estimated that there are more than 10 million people with hay fever in England.

You can get hay fever at any age, although it usually begins in childhood or during the teenage years. It's more common in boys than girls. In adults, men and women are equally affected.

You're more likely to develop hay fever if you have a family history of allergies, particularly asthma or eczema.

Self-help tips

It's sometimes possible to prevent the symptoms of hay fever by taking some basic precautions, such as:

  • wearing wraparound sunglasses to stop pollen getting in your eyes when you're outdoors
  • taking a shower and changing your clothes after being outdoors to remove the pollen on your body
  • staying indoors when the pollen count is high (over 50 grains per cubic metre of air)
  • applying a small amount of Vaseline (petroleum gel) to the nasal openings to trap pollen grains

Read more about preventing hay fever.


Even though hay fever doesn't pose a serious threat to health, it can have a negative impact on a person's quality of life. People with very severe hay fever often find that it can disrupt their productivity at school or work.

Inflammation of the sinuses (sinusitis) is another common complication of hay fever. Children may also develop a middle ear infection (otitis media) as a result of hay fever.

Read more about the complications of hay fever.  

Allergic rhinitis

Seasonal allergic rhinitis is the medical term for hay fever. Rhinitis means inflammation of the inside of the nose.

Some people also experience hay fever-like symptoms when exposed to other allergy-triggering substances, such as dust mites and animal fur.

Read more about other types of allergic rhinitis.

Pollen count

The pollen count is a measurement of the amount of pollen in the air. The higher the count, the more severe symptoms of hay fever can become (depending on the specific type of pollen you're allergic to).

The Met Office provides a pollen forecast. If the pollen count is high, you can take preventative measures, such as taking antihistamine medication, before leaving the house.

Page last reviewed: 27/10/2015

Next review due: 27/10/2016