The start of spring can spell misery for the 12million Britons who suffer from seasonal allergic rhinitis better known as hay fever.

What causes it?

Hay fever is an allergic reaction to certain types of airborne pollen. Grass pollen is the most common culprit (affecting 95 per cent of sufferers) and the season can start in May and last until July or August. People who are allergic to tree pollen can start feeling the effects as early as February, depending on whether the allergy is to early or late flowering trees. For those allergic to nettles or other weeds the season is likely to be late summer – August and September.

What are the symptoms?

Common complaints are runny, itchy or blocked nose, sneezing, and itchy eyes. Frequent absences from work or poor performance in exams are often the result. Allergic reactions can start when you are a teenager (13 to 14-year-olds are particularly affected) but the body can learn to adapt, so as you grow older the symptoms may ease.

What treatment do you recommend?

Mild symptoms can often be managed without medication and by avoiding pollen as far as possible (although as the minute particles can be carried over long distances, you cannot avoid contact entirely). Stay indoors and keep windows closed when the count is high. Wear sunglasses if you go into the countryside and keep car windows closed when driving. On return, shower and wash your hair and change your clothing. Eye drops and nasal sprays may be helpful for streaming eyes or a runny nose. If your symptoms are wider than this, an antihistamine tablet or liquid may be best. If working or driving, look for one that is less likely to have a sedative effect. Newer antihistamines are non-drowsy and our online pharmacist can guide you to these.

What should I avoid?

Pregnant women and nursing mothers should avoid taking medicines unless directed to do so by their doctor. However, if symptoms are particularly bad, some, non-sedating antihistamines, can be used. Check before taking them. Antihistamines with a sedative should not be taken for a long period – so stick to the non-drowsy type if possible.
Nasal sprays that contain decongestants should not be used too frequently or they could make a blocked nose worse.
Don't wait until symptoms arrive before taking any medication. If you know when to expect an attack, start your treatment before.

Do I need to see my GP?

If over the counter treatments don’t give you sufficient relief or your symptoms are particularly severe, our pharmacist will be able to tell you if you should see your GP.

Did you know?

Of the 150 species of native grass in Britain, 12 are responsible for the vast majority of grass pollen.