Hay Fever Symptoms and Signs

Hay fever symptoms can be annoying when they show up. A runny nose could spoil your rare day in the sun, while trying to master work spreadsheets through watery eyes can be tough. Knowing the signs to look for can help you manage your symptoms better.

Also known by the catchy name of ‘seasonal rhinitis’ (which really means irritation or inflammation of the nose), hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen. Once that nuisance pollen powder gets inside you, it triggers a variety of annoying – and sometimes painful - symptoms.

Symptoms of hay fever in adults can vary, depending on the:

  • Person affected
  • Season
  • Type of pollen

You might be lucky and only get mild hay fever symptoms or you could end up with a few all at once. Either way, hay fever symptoms can last for weeks and months – however, long you’re exposed to pollen causing an allergic reaction.

This page covers:

  • Cold or hay fever?
  • What are the main hay fever symptoms?
  • Hay fever symptoms by severity
  • Mild hay fever symptoms
  • Severe hay fever symptoms
  • Long-term hay fever symptoms

Is it a Cold or Hay Fever?

Many hay fever symptoms overlap with those you get with a cold, so it can be hard to say which you’ve got. There are a few key differences between symptoms:

Colds can take one to three days to start after coming into contact with the virus and normally last for up to a week. Hay fever begins immediately after pollen exposure and continues until you’re no longer exposed to the allergens.

Use our pollen pal to see the levels in your area to try and avoid exposure and a bout of hay fever.

What are the main hay fever symptoms?

Symptoms of hay fever vary from person to person. You’ll usually be struck with one or more of the same handful of key symptoms to let you know hay fever season truly has arrived. A season that is getting longer.

Amena Warner, Head of Clinical, Allergy UK, says: “There’s evidence that suggests climate change - with increasing temperatures - are contributing to extending the grass pollen season in the UK. Grass pollen is the cause for the majority of pollen driven hay fever symptoms. Furthermore, with warmer weather, pollen counts can be high and the breeze can spread pollen over a large area as it is carried in the wind. “Human activities have increased atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Studies are showing that plants produce more pollen as a response to high atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, and so people may also find that their hay fever is worse when pollution levels are high, especially in warm weather. These are the factors that lead us to expect rising pollen levels in the UK in the coming years, triggering the unpleasant symptoms of hay fever over longer periods.”

The main signs and symptoms of hay fever include:

  • Sneezing and coughing – sneezing – whether big loud blasts or small squeaky sniffles - can be a sign pollen is irritating your nose. Coughing from hay fever tends to be because the mucus that hasn’t escaped through your nose is dripping down your throat.
  • Runny or blocked nose – unlike the thick mucus you’d associate with a cold, nasal discharge from hay fever tends to be clearer and thinner . Go on, take a look in your hanky to see what colour it is.
  • Itchy, red or watery eyes – for many, this is the most annoying symptom. Watery eyes is you body’s way of giving pollen hit areas a quick shower, trying to wash it out. Eyes can become itchy, sticky and red as your immune system reacts to the pollen.
  • Itchy throat, mouth, nose and ears – similar to itchy eyes, these parts of your body are also hit by your immune reaction to contact with pollen and become annoyingly itchy.
  • Loss of smell – if food tastes different or things smell weird (and your partner’s not cooking), it could be a sign of hay fever.
  • Pain around your temples and forehead – allergens can create pockets of pain around your sinuses (that area behind your cheekbones and forehead).
  • Headache – sinus pain from hay fever can also trigger headaches.
  • Earache – the lining of the tubes in your ear can inflame when it reacts with pollen . Just to add to your discomfort.
  • Feeling tired – if these symptoms don’t make you want to curl up in bed, then the immune system going into overdrive and releasing chemicals that make you doze off will.

Many of these symptoms can also be related to other illness, reactions or even Covid. If you’re at all worried about these symptoms, they have come on suddenly and unexpectedly or have got much worse, speak to your GP.

We all have a friend who has a little sneeze and declares hay fever, while you’re stuck inside with eyes watering, headaches and coughs. Many people experience severe hay fever symptoms when the pollen count is high, while others might have more mild reactions to pollen.

Mild Hay Fever Symptoms

General tiredness is a fairly mild effect of having hay fever, normally a side effect from not sleeping properly as you cough and sneeze all night long. You might keep waking up due to a blocked or runny nose or other symptoms like a sore throat that causes you to get up for a glass of water.

Sneezing, coughing and a runny nose are common symptoms that can vary greatly in severity – from being a little uncomfortable and mildly irritating to requiring a lot of attention. The same goes for ear and headaches, which can be rarer and vary in their pain levels.

Severe Hay Fever Symptoms

Itchy eyes, nose, throat and/or mouth are some of the most severe hay fever symptoms . These can disrupt your daily life, especially symptoms affecting your eyes that may impair your vision – meaning you might need to take the day off work or ditch that family trip to the park.

While earache is a less common symptom, it can develop and become quite severe. As the passages around your nose and throat swell due to an allergic reaction, it can lead to blockages in your ear, difficulty hearing and quite a painful experience.

Certain irritants can also make your symptoms of hay fever worse. As your nose inflames due to an allergic reaction to pollen, it’s more sensitive and exposure to the following irritants can make symptoms worse:

  • Wood and tobacco smoke
  • Air pollution and irritating fumes
  • Wind
  • Aerosol sprays
  • Strong odours
  • Changes in temperature and humidity

Long-term Hay Fever Symptoms

Bad hay fever symptoms might only last for a few days (yippee!) but cause long-term effects that go on for weeks and even months if left untreated (boo!). Such symptoms can include:

  • Clogged ears
  • Sore throat
  • Reduced sense of smell
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue and irritability
  • Puffiness or dark circles under your eyes

Even if these start out as mild symptoms, the longer they go on the worse impact they can have on other areas of your health. Those who have any long-term hay fever symptoms can also experience:

  • Poor sleep quality, leading to ongoing tiredness
  • An increase in asthma symptoms
  • Lack of energy and productivity, resulting in missed school, work or social activities
  • Ear infections (especially for kids)
  • Eye infections and conjunctivitis
  • Sinus inflammation and constant congestion that develops into sinusitis

Short or long-term, manage whatever symptoms come your way with our top hay fever hacks.

Symptoms Hay Fever Cold
Runny nose Thin, watery discharge. Thicker discharge can be yellow.
Fever No fever. Low grade fever.
Aches Head and earache. Body aches.

Sources / Research:

https://www.allergyuk.org/information-and-advice/conditions-and-symptoms/11-hay-fever-allergic-rhinitis https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hay-fever

 

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