Symptoms of hay fever: triggers, complications and treatment

What is hay fever?

Hay fever is a common condition that affects about 18 million Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Also known as allergic rhinitis or nasal allergies, hay fever can be seasonal, perennial (year-round) or occupational. Rhinitis refers to irritation or inflammation of the nose.

Symptoms commonly include:

  • runny nose

  • nasal congestion

  • sneeze

  • Tearing, red or itchy eyes

  • cough

  • itching in the throat or roof of the mouth

  • postnasal drip

  • itchy nose

  • Sinus pressure and pain

  • skin itch

Symptoms can become long-term if hay fever is not treated.

Read on to learn more about the symptoms of hay fever and how to manage or treat them.

How are the symptoms of hay fever different from other conditions?

Although the symptoms of hay fever and symptoms of a cold may be similar, the biggest difference is that a cold will cause fever and body aches. The treatments for both conditions are also very different.

DifferenceHay feverCold
SynchronizationHay fever begins immediately after exposure to an allergen.Colds begin one to three days after exposure to a virus.
DurationHay fever lasts as long as you are exposed to allergens, usually several weeks.Colds usually last three to seven days.
The symptomsHay fever produces a nasal discharge with a thin, watery discharge.Colds cause a runny discharge with a thicker discharge that may be yellow.
FeverHay fever does not cause fever.Colds usually cause a low fever.

Read more about the differences between allergies and colds »

Other conditions

Other conditions with symptoms similar to hay fever:

  • cold head

  • infectious rhinitis, includes upper respiratory tract infection

  • Irritating rhinitis, reaction to physical or chemical changes.

  • sinusitis

Unlike hay fever, these conditions can also cause fevers.

Symptoms of hay fever in babies and children.

Hay fever is extremely common in children, although they rarely develop before 3 years of age. But it is important to treat allergy symptoms, especially in infants and children. Severe symptoms of hay fever can develop into long-term health conditions, such as asthma, sinusitis or chronic ear infections. Recent studies show that genetics can indicate whether your child will develop asthma along with hay fever.

Younger children may have more problems treating the symptoms of hay fever. It can affect your concentration and sleep patterns. Sometimes the symptoms are confused with the common cold. But your child will not have a fever as he would with a cold and the symptoms will persist beyond a few weeks.

What are the long-term symptoms of hay fever?

The symptoms of hay fever often begin immediately after being exposed to a specific allergen. Having these symptoms for more than a few days can cause:

  • covered ears

  • sore throat

  • decreased sense of smell

  • Headaches

  • Allergic glows, or dark circles under the eyes.

  • fatigue

  • irritability

  • swelling under the eyes

Do you have a hay fever rash? »

Experiencing these symptoms over time can have a negative effect on:

  • quality of sleep

  • asthma symptoms

  • Quality of life as symptoms may make activities less pleasant, or make you less productive at work and school, or even require you to stay at home without going to work or school

  • Ear infections, especially in children.

  • Eyes, or allergic conjunctivitis, which occurs when the allergen irritates the membrane on the eye.

  • Sinus inflammation, which can become sinusitis due to persistent congestion.

Some patients say that hay fever feels like a cold, especially if it continues for a prolonged period and the symptoms get worse.

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What causes your allergies to hay fever?

Symptoms of hay fever usually begin right after being exposed to the allergen. Allergens can be indoors or outdoors seasonally or throughout the year.

Common allergens include:

  • pollen

  • mold or fungi

  • pet hair or dandruff

  • dust mites

  • cigarette smoke

  • fragrance

These allergens will activate your immune system, which mistakenly identifies the substance as something harmful. In response to this, your immune system produces antibodies to defend your body. Antibodies tell your blood vessels to widen and that your body produces inflammatory chemicals, such as histamine. It is this response that causes the symptoms of hay fever.

Genetic factors

The chance of developing allergies also increases if someone in your family has allergies. This study found that if parents have allergy-related illnesses, it increases the chances of their children developing hay fever. Asthma and eczema that is not related to allergy do not affect your risk factor for hay fever.

What triggers your symptoms?

Your symptoms may vary depending on the time of year, the place where you live and the types of allergies you have. Knowing these factors can help you prepare for your symptoms. Early spring often affects people with seasonal allergies, but nature blooms at different times of the year. For example:

  • Tree pollen is most common in early spring.

  • Grass pollen is more common in late spring and summer.

  • Ambrosia pollen is more common in the fall.

  • Pollen allergies can get worse on hot, dry days when the wind carries the pollen.

But your symptoms of hay fever can appear throughout the year, if you are allergic to allergens indoors. Indoor allergens include:

  • dust mites

  • pet dander

  • cockroaches

  • mold and fungal spores

Sometimes, the symptoms of these allergens may appear seasonally as well. Allergies to mold spores tend to get worse during warmer or wetter weather.

What makes the symptoms of hay fever worse?

The symptoms of hay fever can also be made worse by other irritants. This is because hay fever causes inflammation in the lining of the nose and makes your nose more sensitive to air irritants.

These irritants include:

  • wood smoke

  • the air pollution

  • tobacco smoke

  • wind

  • aerosol sprays

  • strong smells

  • temperature changes

  • humidity changes

  • irritating fumes

When should I visit a doctor for hay fever?

The symptoms of hay fever are almost never immediately dangerous. No allergy tests are required during the diagnosis of hay fever. You should see a doctor if your symptoms do not respond to over-the-counter (OTC) medications. You can ask your doctor or specialist for an allergy test if you are interested in knowing the exact cause of your allergy.

Consult your doctor if any of the following occurs:

  • Your symptoms last more than a week and are annoying for you.

  • Over-the-counter allergy medications are not helping.

  • You have another condition, such as asthma, that worsens the symptoms of hay fever.

  • Hay fever occurs throughout the year.

  • Its symptoms are severe.

  • The allergy medications you are taking are causing bothersome side effects.

  • You are interested in knowing if allergy shots or immunotherapy are a good option for you.

How to treat or control your symptoms

Treatments and plans at home are available to help reduce your symptoms. You can reduce the chances of coming into contact with dust and mildew by cleaning and ventilating your rooms regularly. For outdoor allergies, you can download Poncho, a weather application that tells you about pollen count and wind speed.

Other changes in lifestyle include:

  • Keep windows closed to prevent pollen from entering.

  • wear sunglasses to cover your eyes when you are outdoors

  • using a dehumidifier to control mold

  • wash your hands after petting animals or interacting with them in an aerated space

To relieve congestion, try using a Neti pot or saline sprays. These options can also reduce postnasal drip, which contributes to sore throat.

Treatment options for children include:

  • eye drops

  • saline nasal rinses

  • non-intensive antihistamines

  • Vaccines against allergy, which are administered more frequently to children 5 years and older.

Read about the best ways to treat seasonal allergies »

Cooking or spicing food or drinks with turmeric can also be effective. Turmeric contains anti-allergic and natural decongestant properties. The studies found that turmeric suppresses allergic reactions.

Other alternative treatments have less evidence of their benefits, but some people feel a difference after incorporating these foods into their diet. These foods include:

  • Butterbur shrub, PA free

  • spirulina

  • Pepper

  • vitamin C

  • fish oil

Honey is also thought to help decrease seasonal allergies. People who are allergic to bees should not consume unprocessed honey. If nothing else, honey can help soothe an irritated or irritated throat.


Many non-intensive antihistamines are now available without a prescription. You may be able to prevent symptoms from developing if you take them before the pollen is in the air. Ask your pharmacist what will work best for you. You may need prescription medications if your symptoms are severe. These may include immunotherapy, or allergy shots.

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