What is hay fever and how do you get rid of it?

Allergic rhinitis, commonly known as hay fever, is caused when the nose and/or eyes come in contact with environmental allergens: pollens, air borne moulds, dust mites and animal dander. When your immune system is sensitive to one or more allergens present in the environment, the body experiences a range of visible symptoms.

Despite the name, you don’t have to be exposed to hay nor do you develop fever when experiencing allergic rhinitis.

According to self-reported data from the 2017-2018 Australian Bureau of Statistics National Health Survey (NHS) [a], 19% of Australians had allergic rhinitis in 2017-2018. The survey also identified only 10% children suffering from allergic rhinitis as compared to adults.

Types of allergic rhinitis: seasonal and perennial

Seasonal allergic rhinitis: Symptoms may commonly occur in spring, summer and early autumn when pollen count from grass, trees and weeds are high in the air. Other allergens can include airborne mould spores. Light breezes and gusts of winds can easily trigger seasonal allergic rhinitis.

Perennial allergic rhinitis: Symptoms of perennial allergic rhinitis are experienced all year round. Animal dander particularly pet hair, dust mites and moulds are commonly known to trigger perennial allergic rhinitis. The symptoms have been known to get particularly worse at the beginning of pollen season when there are an increased number of allergens in the air.

Hay fever triggers

When the allergens present in the air and breathed in through the nose, the nasal passage becomes red and swollen. Here are the most common hay fever triggers to watch out for:

  • Environmental allergens: pollens from grass, trees and weeds
  • Indoor allergens: animal dander, pet hair, dust mites and mould
  • Irritants: Diesel exhaust, industrial fuel burning, cigarette smoke, odour from chemicals in cleaning products, laundry detergents, and strong fragrances from perfumes and cosmetics

Common hay fever symptoms

Hay fever can affect your day to day living and ability to perform routine activities such as going to work, attending school, playing a sport or going for social outings. For some people the symptoms are mild and non-interfering. Some of the symptoms can be mistaken for a common cold or the flu, but it is important to note that allergy symptoms tend to persist until treated correctly. Here are the common symptoms of hay fever:

  • Runny nose
  • Blocked nose
  • Itchy skin and eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing to clear throat
  • Snoring
  • Constant sensation of a head cold

Other symptoms of hay fever

  • Irritability
  • Sleep disorders
  • Constant fatigue
  • Decreased concentration and lack of focus
  • Impaired hand-eye coordination
  • Recurrent headaches
  • Reduced sense of smell
  • Sinus infections in adults
  • Ear infections in children
  • Decreased productivity at school or work
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Hay fever treatment

A variety of treatment options are available over the counter and your local TerryWhite Chemmart pharmacist will be able to advise you on the most appropriate treatment option. It is recommended that you always discuss your symptoms in detail with your pharmacist and share information about any existing medical conditions. Symptoms can be controlled with medications, but certain medications are only suited to adults. When buying hay fever medications for your children discuss the risks and benefits with your local pharmacist.

Your pharmacist may suggest more than one product to target different symptoms. Antihistamines are a suitable treatment option for mild symptoms such as a runny nose and sneezing and usually work fast. In contrast, corticosteroid nasal sprays take a few days to show results, but are more effective in treating blocked noses.

Many hay fever treatments that come in the same dispensing format e.g. nasal sprays or eye drops, do not contain the same active ingredients or class of medicine. They are formulated to target different symptoms so you may need to try a few different products before you find something most suited to relieve your symptoms.

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Find out more

Corticosteroid nasal sprays
Corticosteroid nasal sprays reduce swelling in the lining of the nose and are known to be one of the most effective treatments for hay fever. They help provide relief from itching, sneezing, runny and blocked noses, and irritation in eyes. It is important to follow your pharmacist’s advice on taking medications over a period of time.

Antihistamine tablets, syrups or eye drops
Antihistamines treat the symptoms of hay fever by blocking the action of the histamine, which is released by the body in reaction to an allergen. Relief from irritated eyes, overall itchiness and sneezing can be sought with antihistamine tablets. Eyes may appear red and swollen due to itchiness and watering. Eye drops containing antihistamine are known to provide immediate relief.

Natural products
You may find some natural products such as saltwater nasal sprays provide better relief for dry nasal passages or thick nasal mucous. The saline solution clears congestion in the nasal passage and washes out allergens such as dust, pollen and irritants.

Immunotherapy
This is an allergen-specific treatment option that is usually administered over a few years by a trained medical specialist, such as a clinical immunologist. The therapy follows a desensitisation mode of treatment wherein the patient is injected with small doses of allergen extracts; to desensitise the body to allergens gradually over time.

Corticosteroid nasal sprays

Corticosteroid nasal sprays reduce swelling in the lining of the nose and are known to be one of the most effective treatments for hay fever. They help provide relief from itching, sneezing, runny and blocked noses, and irritation in eyes. It is important to follow your pharmacist’s advice on taking medications over a period of time.

Antihistamine tablets, syrups or eye drops

Antihistamines treat the symptoms of hay fever by blocking the action of the histamine, which is released by the body in reaction to an allergen. Relief from irritated eyes, overall itchiness and sneezing can be sought with antihistamine tablets. Eyes may appear red and swollen due to itchiness and watering. Eye drops containing antihistamine are known to provide immediate relief.

Natural products

You may find some natural products such as saltwater nasal sprays provide better relief for dry nasal passages or thick nasal mucous. The saline solution clears congestion in the nasal passage and washes out allergens such as dust, pollen and irritants.

Immunotherapy

This is an allergen-specific treatment option that is usually administered over a few years by a trained medical specialist, such as a clinical immunologist. The therapy follows a desensitisation mode of treatment wherein the patient is injected with small doses of allergen extracts; to desensitise the body to allergens gradually over time.

Diagnosing hay fever

If you are experiencing any symptoms of hay fever, speak to your doctor or trusted pharmacist at your local TerryWhite Chemmart. It is important to accurately diagnose symptoms for appropriate treatment action and relief.

During the consultation, you will be asked to share your medical history and details about your lifestyle that may help to point towards the cause of the symptoms. Gaining a better understanding of your work and home environments; as well as the frequency and severity of your symptoms, will help your doctor prescribe the most suited treatment.

After conducting a physical examination, a skin and blood test may be recommended to see how your body reacts to different allergens.

Type of skin tests

Prick test – During this test your doctor will prick your arm with a tiny drop of a common allergen. If the skin gets red, itchy or swollen around the test site, it is highly possible your immune system is sensitive to the allergen. It is one of the most common types of skin tests and the results are known within 20 minutes.

Intradermal test – In this test, a small amount of a common allergen is injected in the skin using a needle. It takes about 20 minutes for any reaction indicating sensitivity to allergens to appear at the injected site on the skin.

Type of skin tests

Prick test – During this test your doctor will prick your arm with a tiny drop of a common allergen. If the skin gets red, itchy or swollen around the test site, it is highly possible your immune system is sensitive to the allergen. It is one of the most common types of skin tests and the results are known within 20 minutes.

Intradermal test – In this test, a small amount of a common allergen is injected in the skin using a needle. It takes about 20 minutes for any reaction indicating sensitivity to allergens to appear at the injected site on the skin.

Spring has sprung! Tips to prevent and treat hay fever

Spring is a wonderful time of the year. Warm weather, beautiful blossoming nature and heaps of outdoor activities to keep you in good spirits. It is also a time when opening the windows and letting some fresh air in, can be uncomfortable for some of us due to seasonal allergies.

Tips to prevent hay fever all year round

If you are experiencing any symptoms of hay fever, speak to your doctor or trusted pharmacist at your local TerryWhite Chemmart. It is important to accurately diagnose symptoms for appropriate treatment action and relief.

During the consultation, you will be asked to share your medical history and details about your lifestyle that may help to point towards the cause of the symptoms. Gaining a better understanding of your work and home environments; as well as the frequency and severity of your symptoms, will help your doctor prescribe the most suited treatment.

After conducting a physical examination, a skin and blood test may be recommended to see how your body reacts to different allergens.

Managing hay fever and asthma

Asthma is an inflammatory condition of the lungs characterised by people experiencing shortness of breath, tightness in the chest, excessive wheezing and coughing. It is advisable to consult your doctor at the start of hay fever season to discuss any change in medication management that may be required if you are taking an inhaler on a regular basis.

Sometimes an asthma attack can be triggered when a person is exposed to an allergen. Better control of hay fever can help in better control of asthma. Untreated hay fever may expose a person to the risks of developing asthma and eczema.

According to Asthma Australia, more than 2.7 million Australians suffer from Asthma and nearly 80 percent also suffer from hay fever.

[a] ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2018. National Health Survey: First Results, 2017–18. ABS cat. no. 4364.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS.