Seasonal allergic rhinitis
Hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen. When these tiny particles come into contact with the cells that line your mouth, nose, eyes and throat, they irritate them and trigger an allergic reaction.
When you have an allergic reaction, your body overreacts to something it perceives as a threat. In hay fever, the allergen (the substance you're allergic to) is pollen. Your immune system (the bodys natural defence) responds as if it were being attacked by a virus.
Your immune system will release a number of chemicals designed to prevent the spread of what it wrongly perceives as an infection. These chemicals cause the symptoms of the allergic reaction, such as watering eyes and a runny nose.
It's unclear what causes the immune system to react in this way, but there are several factors that can increase your risk of developing hay fever. They include:
Most people with hay fever are allergic to grass pollen, but it can also be caused by trees and weeds. Research suggests that pollution, such as cigarette smoke or car exhaust fumes, can make allergies worse.
There are around 30 types of pollen that could cause your hay fever. The pollen that causes hay fever can come from a number of sources, including:
It's possible to be allergic to more than one type of pollen.
Different trees and plants produce their pollen at different times of the year. Depending on which type of pollen you're allergic to, you may experience hay fever symptoms at different times.
In the UK, the pollen countseason is usually separated into three periods:
However, the pollen count season can sometimes begin as early as January or end in November. For example, depending on the weather conditions, sometimes there can be an "early spring" or a"long summer".
The amount of sunshine, rain or wind affects how much pollen plants release and how much it's spread around. On humid and windy days, pollen spreads easily. On rainy days, pollen may be cleared from the air, causing pollen levels to fall.
During their pollen season, plants release pollen early in the morning. As the day gets warmer and more flowers open, pollen levels rise. On sunny days, the pollen count is highest in the early evening.
Rhinitis, also known as Hay fever, is a common allergic condition. Symptoms include sneezing, runny nose, and itchy eyes. There's currently no cure for hay fever, but most people are able to relieve symptoms with treatment, at least to a certain extent.
Hay fever symptoms vary in severity and may be worse some years, depending on the weather conditions and pollen count. The time of year your symptoms start will depend on the types of pollen you're allergic to. Symptoms include frequent sneezing; a blocked or runny nose; itchy, red or watery eyes; etc.
It's unclear what causes the immune system to react in this way, but there are several factors that can increase your risk of developing hay fever. Risk factors include asthma and a family history of hay fever.
Your GP should be able to diagnose hay fever from a description of your symptoms. In some cases, you may be referred for allergy testing.
Before going to see your GP, you could visit your pharmacist and try to treat your hay fever symptoms with over-the-counter medications, such as antihistamines. Make an appointment to see your GP if your symptoms don't improve after using antihistamines.
Hay fever can lead to complications such as sinusitis and middle ear infections (otitis media). It can also have a significant impact on your daily activities. In one study, a third of adults with hay fever reported that their symptoms had a considerable negative impact on their work, home and social life.
It's very difficult to completely avoid pollen. However, reducing your exposure to the substances that trigger your hay fever should ease your symptoms. Rubbing a small amount of Vaseline (petroleum gel) inside your lower nostrils can help to prevent pollen from entering your nasal passages.
Lisa Miles, from Kent, tried several different treatments before she found the right one for her. She tells how she relieves her hay fever symptoms.