What is hay fever and what can you do?

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What is hay fever?

Unfortunately, when the sun starts to come out, the dreaded allergens spring to life. Many of you are suffering with hay fever symptoms right now and might not be getting much relief from what you have got in your medicines box!

Sometimes it can be hard to know the difference between hay fever or a common cold, as there are many overlapping symptoms. Typically hay fever can give you a:

- runny (or sometimes blocked!) nose
- sneezing
- itchy nose
- red, itchy, watery eyes
- itchy skin, rash or hives

This usually occurs are a result of your immune symptom ‘over-reacting’ when in contact with an allergen. These allergens can sometimes be more obvious (eg. dog hair or your partners perfume) or can be harder to pinpoint or avoid (eg. grass and pollen in the air). Histamine is a chemical found within mast cells, which is a type of white cell formed as part of our immune system. When these cells break open, histamine is released which causes an allergic and inflammatory response in the body. The aim of treatment with allergies is to either block the effect of histamine itself, or to ‘stabilise’ the mast cells to stop their release in the first place.

So what can you do to manage your symptoms?

Anti-histamine tablets - these are the most common or popular way to treat hayfever symptoms, and most are available in convenient ONCE daily non-drowsy tablets. They are very well tolerated and are suitable for most people. Neither of these are definitely better or stronger than the next, but sometimes using a different one may prove to give you a better response. The older anti-histamine tablets can sometimes be more effective, but don’t last as long and can cause drowsiness in some people.

Steroid nasal sprays – these are brilliant for preventing allergy symptoms and managing flare-ups. They work by suppressing the local immune and imflammatory response and can be really helpful to prevent that pesky post-nasal drip into your throat as well. Unfortunately, they do not work straight away, so they cannot be used “on and off”. Ideally, they work best when used regularly for a block of time, whether that is for a few weeks, during a particular season or even all year round. If used correctly, they are safe to use long-term, as they only work locally in the nose and do not get absorbed to affect other parts of the body.

Anti-histamine nasal sprays – if you’re after quick (15 minutes) relief of nasal symptoms, this is a handy option to have. They can be used as required and can last for up to 12 hours.

Eye drops – for those of you that are more affected with red, itchy, watery eyes, there are a few types of eye drop products available. Anti-histamine eye drops can be used as needed to manage symptoms when they are worse. If you experience these eye symptoms more frequently, some can also be used every day to prevent them by stabilising the mast cells in and around the eyes.


With all of these options it is best to chat to one of our Pharmacists first before deciding which is the best and safest option for you! Choice will depend on the symptoms you have, what you have tried before, how old you are, what other medications you take, and if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

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