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Hay fever: has yours started yet?

May 3, 2024
Hay fever: has yours started yet?
May 3, 2024

As we head into the summer months, grass pollen – the most common trigger of hay fever affecting 95% of hay fever sufferers (source: Allergy UK) – begins to take hold. So if your nose is running, your eyes are itchy and you’ve been sneezing a lot then it’s entirely possible your hay fever has already started, says ZoomDoc GP, Dr Lydia Williamson.

‘We often see patients at this time of year who are worried about a long-lasting cold they can’t shake or wondering why their eyes are streaming or itching more than ever – and actually their symptoms are simply an allergy to pollen,’ says Dr Lydia.

According to recent data from the UKHSA (UK Health and Security Agency), pollen season is starting earlier and earlier.

Research suggests that with increasing temperatures and early blossoming of trees some allergy sufferers could experience hay fever and other reactions as early as January or February.

So if you’ve been wondering what’s causing your eyes to water or why your winter cold just won’t go away, hay fever could be to blame. 

Here’s how to know exactly – and what to do if pollen is affecting you right now.

How do I know if I have hay fever or a cold?


Allergies follow a pattern and symptoms tend to stick around longer: Allergies do not cause fevers or wet coughs and have an itch factor (eyes, nose, throat).


If you feel well but have cold-like symptoms that last longer than a week and do not respond to paracetamol or cold remedies then it’s likely to be hay fever.

Try taking antihistamines to see if that calms any symptoms – ‘if it does, it’s likely to be an allergy rather than a virus,’ says Dr Lydia.

At this time of year, there’s a strong chance your allergy is being triggered by a specific pollen.

How to manage hay fever symptoms


Most people manage hay fever by avoiding allergens in their daily life, and with medicines such as antihistamines and nasal sprays.


If your symptoms are mild then you should be able to manage them with over-the-counter medication (antihistamines, nasal sprays and eye drops).

It’s also a good idea to arm yourself with sunglasses and to keep an eye on the pollen forecast so you know when symptoms might be particularly bad.

And if you find a medication that works, keep taking it.

‘Once you stop taking antihistamines, the pollen gets into your system, triggers your allergic reaction (sneezing, runny nose, coughing) and you’ll be playing catch up to calm the symptoms again,’ says Dr Lydia.

‘Ideally take hay fever medication 1-2 weeks before your pollen season kicks in and keep taking it for the 8-12 weeks that it lasts for,’ she says.

UKHSA information describes the three key pollen seasons as follows:

  • From about March until May, the blossoming of trees such as hazel and birch creates the first wave of symptoms for some (tree) pollen allergy sufferers.
  • From May until July grass pollen forms the bulk of the UK’s pollen load.
  • Weed pollen (such as dock and mugwort) starts to occur from June and can last well into the autumn.


When should I see a doctor about hay fever?


If you develop difficulty breathing, or have swelling around your lips and tongue, you need to get emergency help straight away.


If your hay fever seems out of control and symptoms are affecting your job, studies or day to day life then you may need stronger medication to calm it.

Visit your GP or make an appointment with a private ZoomDoc GP for medication advice or prescriptions for stronger antihistamines or a nasal corticosteroid spray to help manage your hay fever.

Top tips for managing hay fever


There are lots of medicines and remedies available from local pharmacies to make life more comfortable and stop the negative effects of pollen overload.

There are lots of small ways you can reduce your exposure to pollen. Experts recommend trying the following:

  • keep windows and doors closed
  • do not let pets sleep on your bedding 
  • do not dry your laundry outside 
  • put a dot of Vaseline around your nostrils to trap pollen
  • wear wraparound sunglasses to stop pollen getting into your eyes
  • shower and change out of outdoor clothes once you get home change your clothes after you have been outside to wash pollen off
  • vacuum and dust regularly using a damp cloth
  • invest in an air purifier
  • eat a healthy, balanced diet – there is some evidence to suggest prebiotics, protein and anti-inflammatory foods (oily fish, nuts, seeds, ginger) can help support gut health and alleviate symptoms
  • ask your GP about immunotherapy – a specialist treatment that helps you slowly build up your immunity to pollen. 

For more hay fever tips read 6 things your GP wants you to know about hay fever.

Still need help with your hay fever? 

You may need to see an allergy specialist – ZoomDoc can provide a same-day private referral letter to help you get seen by a specialist sooner. 

Simply select ZoomDoc’s ‘GP Referral Letter’ service and make your appointment to get help with severe hay fever.


Want to know more?

Our team of Doctors are available via the ZoomDoc App for any medical questions or queries.