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Hayfever: Top Tips For Sufferers As We Enter The Month The Season Begins PDF Print Email

Streaming eyes? Itchy nose, throat and mouth? Can’t stop sneezing?


Welcome to hay fever season, which kicks off in earnest in March and will make life miserable for up to 25% of the UK population suffering from this seasonal allergy to pollens.

The tree pollen season – which typically lasts from mid-March to mid-May – is almost upon us, and if that doesn’t get your eyes watering, grass pollen season kicks in mid-May and lasts until July.

So what can sufferers do to alleviate symptoms? Visiting your pharmacy is always a good place to start, your local pharmacist has lots of advice to give and a great understanding of all the products available to help ease your suffering.


Allergy specialist Dr Susan Aldridge, an expert at, gives her top ten tips for avoiding and reducing the symptoms of hay fever:

1. Reduce your exposure to pollen

Hay fever sufferers can limit the effects of plant pollen in the home by showering and changing clothes as soon as they get inside. Those with long hair or facial hair should shampoo it every day to get rid of trapped pollen, or keep hair tied back. Plants release pollens during the day, so those who find hay fever symptoms bad at night when the pollen count is lower, probably have pollens lingering in their bedrooms. Washing hair will keep them away from your pillow and bed sheets, helping to alleviate symptoms.


2. Clean regularly

Cleaning regularly and effectively can also reduce exposure to pollen. There are cleaning products available that will safely remove lingering pollen, some of which are non-toxic and free from perfumes and irritating additives. Likewise, wash clothes with anti-allergen laundry detergents to effectively and gently remove pollen.


Not all vacuum cleaners will pick up and trap smaller airborne particles like pollen. Use a leakage free vacuum with an HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter to clean carpets and upholstery.


3. Wear sunglasses

Sunglasses act as a physical barrier, preventing pollen from getting into, and directly irritating, your eyes. If you find your eyes stream – a very common symptom of hay fever – sunglasses will help provide some comfort in bright sunlight too.


4. Close windows

Warm air lifts pollen high into the atmosphere during the day. When air cools as dusk falls, pollen starts to descend. You may well be exposed to one of these ‘pollen showers’ in the early hours of the morning if you sleep with a window open.


5. Try barrier balms

Natural balms applied to the base of the nose and around the eyes throughout the day can trap some pollen before it enters the body. The stickier the balm, the more pollen it will trap.


6. Use an air purifier

These vary hugely in quality and price. A top quality air purifier is an investment, and an additional cost for replacement filters – which have to be changed every six to 36 months – should be factored in, but allergy sufferers who use air purifiers have reported significant changes, and even say the air ‘tastes’ or smells cleaner. Beware cheap air purifiers, as they will not trap the smallest particles. Instead, look for a model that has a high filtration efficiency to filter pollen grains out of indoor air, one that moves enough air to clean the room several times per hour, and that they do not produce negative byproducts such as ozone.


7. Practice nasal irrigation

Some sufferers find washing out the nasal passage can be effective in alleviating allergy symptoms. Saline sinus rinses are widely available in chemists, or you could make your own with 240 ml of warm bottled water and a quarter of a teaspoon of non-iodised salt.


A nasal decongestant, available as drops or a spray, may also be helpful, to clear a blocked nose. Ask your pharmacist for some advice.  Some of these are corticosteroids, which act by reducing inflammation. These include Beconase (beclomethasone) and Flixonase (fluticasone). Meanwhile, Otrivine/Sudafed (xylometazoline) is a non-corticosteroid nasal decongestant. All of these can be bought without prescription from your pharmacy.

8. Medication

If your symptoms are mild, use a long-acting non-sedating antihistamine such as Claritin (loratadine), NeoClaritin (desloratadine), Zyrtec (cetirizine), Xyzal (levocetirizine) or Allegra (fexofenadine), which are all available over-the-counter from your pharmacy.  Your pharmacist will be pleased to help you with advice and recommendations.

The older antihistamines like chlorpheniramine (Piriton) and hydroxyzine (Atarax) have a significant sedating effect and should not be used if you are driving, operating machinery, or studying. If hay fever mainly affects your eyes, antihistamine eye drops, such as Otrivine (antazoline) may help.

Very severe hay fever can be treated with a short course of oral steroids. This option is very useful if you have a special occasion coming up, such as a wedding or an important interview where it is crucial you are symptom-free. If antihistamines and nasal steroids do not do the job, then there is also Singulair, a prescription medicine used treat asthma and allergies.

An antibody drug called Xolair (omalizumab), which targets the IgE antibody produced by the allergen, has also been introduced recently. This approach gets to the root cause of hay fever, because IgE activates mast cells, making them produce histamine that triggers the allergic symptoms.

9. Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy - also known as desensitisation or allergy shots - offers a way of overcoming hay fever for some people. The system is flooded with pollen allergen in the hope that the body will eventually learn to ignore it. Patients for immunotherapy are carefully selected and treated in a specialist centre. The procedure now involves only four injections and has been shown to give lasting benefit. There is also a home version known as sublingual immunotherapy, in which the patient places medication under the tongue, but this is currently only available for grass pollen allergies. People with hay fever are eight times more likely to have asthma so one of the benefits of treating allergic rhinitis for long-term results with immunotherapy is that it may prevent asthma in the future.


10. Nutrition & natural remedies

There is evidence that symptoms can be exacerbated by dairy products, as the protein in cows’ milk can irritate the immune system and keep it in a state of over-reactivity. Wheat and citrus fruit have also been flagged up as increasing histamine production, and wheat and dairy are known to increase mucus production, which makes the symptoms of hay fever worse. Saturated fats found in red meat, dairy and sugary foods contain pro-inflammatory substances that can aggravate allergy symptoms and increase mucus production.


Capsaicin, the hot chemical in chillis, can provide long-lasting relief from hay fever symptoms. But beware, capsaicin treatment is powerful and can damage the delicate nasal passages. The spray treatment should only be applied under medical supervision.