There are many medicines available to help with symptoms of hay fever. The more commonly used types are described below. (Except for some corticosteroids, most don’t need a prescription.) Always consult your doctor or pharmacist for advice on the best treatment for you.
Antihistamines help with rapid relief of hay fever symptoms like itchy eyes, sneezing and a runny nose. They are not good at relieving nasal congestion.
- For mild hay fever, an antihistamine may be the only medicine you need.
- All available antihistamines work equally well in relieving hay fever symptoms. Some antihistamines may make you drowsy, which may make it unsafe for you to drive or operate machinery. (Also see Breastfeeding and antihistamines )
- Antihistamines can be taken as a tablet or as a nose spray. A nose spray has a faster onset of action than a tablet. If you are using a nose spray, make sure to follow the instructions so you spray correctly to achieve maximum benefit.
Corticosteroid sprays help prevent symptoms of hay fever, including a blocked nose (nasal congestion). These nose sprays can provide some relief within 3–7 hours, but the real benefit comes when used regularly according to instructions over a period of several days.
- Corticosteroid spray is particularly useful for more severe hay fever.
- Make sure you use the spray for as long as directed to ensure the long-term preventative effects.
- Follow the instructions so you spray correctly to achieve maximum benefit.
Antihistamine and corticosteroid combination sprays offer the advantage of rapid relief of symptoms combined with longer term hay fever prevention.
Decongestants are another type of medicine that can provide rapid relief from a blocked or stuffy nose (nasal congestion) if antihistamines and corticosteroid sprays fail.
- Decongestant medicines should not be given to young children (0–6 years of age). Only give these medicines to older children (6–12 years) if recommended by your health professional.
- Decongestants can cause side effects like insomnia and irritability, and are not suitable if you have a heart condition or high blood pressure.
- Decongestant sprays should not be used longer than a few days as they can actually lead to a blocked or stuffy nose (known as rebound congestion).
Saline solution (salt water) drops or spray may also be useful to wash away pollen in the nose and help with a blocked or stuffy nose.
You can use the Medicine Finder to check the active ingredients in hay fever medicines.