Top 3 tips to beat hay fever

Published in Medicinewise Living

Date published: About this date

Health and medicines information in this article may have changed since the date published. This information does not replace advice from a health professional.

Beat hay fever and enjoy spring. Image: leungchopan /

If you have hay fever, the start of spring can really get up your nose. But if you normally put up with hay fever until the season changes, or just rely on the medicines you always choose from a pharmacy shelf, you could be missing out on effective treatment.

Just like any treatment program, hay fever treatments work best when they’re tailored to you. Taking a little time to plan and using the right medicines — while also doing what you can to prevent an attack — will pay off in the long run and give you better symptom control.

Here are some tips for beating hay fever so you can enjoy spring.

Minimise exposure to your allergens

One of the first things to do if you have hay fever (known medically as allergic rhinitis) is find out what sets your symptoms off. These triggers are called your ‘allergens’.

Allergens that trigger hay fever do literally get up your nose, so preventing exposure will help prevent an attack. This might sound impossible when it comes to pollen and other allergens that float around in the air, but there are ways you can reduce or even stop exposure:

  • Check out a pollen calendar: this helps you identify plants that trigger your hay fever and when they’re most likely to be flowering. You can find out what they look like too, so you can avoid locations where these plants might be growing.
  • Smear petroleum jelly (like Vaseline) inside your nose when you are outdoors: this helps trap pollen and stops it reaching the inner lining of your nose.
  • Stay indoors as much as possible: especially after midday in spring when the pollen count forecast is high, and on windy days or after thunderstorms.
  • Wear sunglasses and frequently splash your eyes with water: this will help protect your eyes from irritation and flush out any pollen.
  • Stay away from parks and gardens while lawns are being mowed: if you can’t avoid this, wearing a mask may help, if practical.
  • Shower after playing sport and other outdoor activities: to rinse off any pollen you’ve been exposed to.
  • Use re-circulated air in the car: especially when pollen levels are high, or keep the windows closed.

Know your allergens

If you think you may have hay fever, see your doctor so they can help you work out what’s causing your symptoms.

If your symptoms mainly start in spring or summer, you may have ‘seasonal’ allergic rhinitis, which is usually triggered by higher pollen counts during these seasons.

If you get symptoms all year round, you may be allergic to another allergen that commonly causes ‘perennial’ allergic rhinitis, such as dust mites, mould or animal hair.

Of course, you can be allergic to more than one thing.

Target your symptoms the right way

Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about your symptoms to work out the best treatment for you. They may suggest you try different medicines or a combination before you find what works best. It’s a good idea to seek advice when choosing a medicine for hay fever because there are many products.

Not all medicines for hay fever are of the same type or work the same way. For this reason, some medicines used to relieve hay fever symptoms may not be enough on their own, and may even be unsuitable for you to take.

Some that are in the same form (e.g. sprays) actually contain very different active ingredients, while in other cases there may be many brands containing the same active ingredient.

For example, decongestant nasal sprays or drops, syrups or tablets may help reduce nasal stuffiness or ‘congestion’. But they don’t work on other hay fever symptoms, and oral forms often cause side effects like insomnia and irritability, and aren’t suitable if you have a heart condition or high blood pressure.

Antihistamine tablets, syrups or nasal sprays are also commonly used for hay fever and can help you control sneezing, itching and a runny nose. But they aren’t as good at relieving nasal congestion, and some antihistamines can cause drowsiness, which could make it unsafe for you to drive or operate machinery.

Know your symptoms

As well as hallmark symptoms such as uncontrollable sneezing, a runny or stuffy nose, and a maddening itchiness, hay fever can cause headaches, an irritating cough, and may interfere with your sleep, causing fatigue and a general feeling of being unwell.

Hay fever can also affect your eyes, making them red, puffy, itchy or watery. You may even lose your taste or smell of food.

Bear in mind your symptoms may have nothing to do with hay fever, so it’s important to have this investigated by your doctor.

Persevere with your preventive treatments

When it comes to hay fever, preventive treatments are just as important for controlling symptoms as medicines that act rapidly on symptoms. You also need to know the right way to use these medicines.

Regular use of a corticosteroid nasal spray prevents symptoms by reducing inflammation and mucus in the nose. This is the most effective preventive treatment for hay fever and the first line of attack when your symptoms are severe.

If you are prescribed or recommended a corticosteroid spray, make sure you use it for as long as directed. While nasal corticosteroids start to relieve symptoms such as a blocked or runny nose within 3–7 hours, the real benefit comes with regular use over a period of several days.

It’s also vital that you know how to you use your nasal spray properly because technique does matter. Your pharmacist or doctor can help you with this.

Antihistamines are not as effective as corticosteroid nasal sprays. If you’re choosing an antihistamine instead for your nasal symptoms, you may also need to use a decongestant. If you use a decongestant nasal spray or drops, it’s important not to use it for more than a few days as this can actually lead to a blocked or stuffy nose (known as rebound congestion).

Know your treatments

Antihistamines and decongestants for hay fever can be bought from pharmacies.

Decongestant medicines include active ingredients such as oxymetazoline (e.g. in the brand Drixine) or phenylephrine (e.g. Nyal Decongestant Nasal Spray). Antihistamines include azelastine (e.g. Azep), cetirizine (e.g. Zyrtec), fexofenadine (e.g. Telfast) or loratadine (e.g. Claratyne).

Some corticosteroid nasal sprays are only available on prescription. Active ingredients include budesonide (e.g. Rhinocort), fluticasone (e.g. Flixonase) or mometasone (Nasonex).

Other medicines are also available for hay fever. Always check with your doctor or pharmacist what treatment and dose you need, when to take it, and how to use it safely and effectively. You can also find any warnings about operating machinery or driving with the medicine on the packaging or label.

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