Hay fever symptoms are caused by an allergic reaction to pollen, the fine powder that plants release as part of their reproductive cycle. Proteins in the pollen irritate the lining of the nose, sinuses, eyes and throat, causing irritation and the symptoms of allergy.
The symptoms vary in severity between individuals and can also be worse at particular times of the year, depending on the weather and how high the pollen count is. Symptoms also start at different times of year, depending on which type of pollen a person is allergic to (e.g grass, tree or weed pollen).
Some of the main symptoms of hay fever include the following:
- Repeated sneezing
- Runny nose
- Nasal congestion
- Itchy throat, nose and ears
- Itchy, red and watery eyes (allergic conjunctivitis)
- Cough caused by mucus running from the back of the nose into the throat. This is also referred to as postnasal drip.
Less commonly, hay fever can lead to the following symptoms
- Sense of smell may be lost
- Blocked sinuses can cause facial pain
Hay fever and asthma
Hay fever can worsen asthma symptoms. In fact, some people with asthma only experience symptoms of their asthma when their hay fever starts. The symptoms they may experience include the following:
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness in the chest
Many people who suffer from hay fever find their symptoms improve with age and around 50% say that symptoms get less severe after several years. Symptoms disappear altogether in around 10 to 20% of hay fever sufferers.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc