Hay fever FAQs

Leading up to the spring and summer months, many people will be starting to worry about their hay fever, but don’t worry we’ve got you covered! Our hay fever FAQs will answer some common questions around hay fever, its prevalence in the UK, who gets hay fever, types of hay fever response to different pollens throughout the year, children’s hay fever, how to help manage symptoms and natural remedies that could help.

Can I suddenly get hay fever when I never had it before?

Although many of the symptoms of hay fever such as a temperature, sneezing, dry throat and itchy eyes, are similar to those of the common cold, hay fever is not contagious so you cannot ‘catch it’ from someone who has the complaint – but there may be other reasons you develop symptoms.

Even though hay fever (also known as allergic rhinitis) can often be more common in those who have previously suffered with allergies, it can appear at any age. Statistics from Allergy UK show that the number of people who develop hay fever has increased over the last few years, affecting between 10% and 30% of all adults and as many as 40% of children [1]. This is mainly seen in the months of February to August, where pollen levels are higher, as shown in figure one which also highlights peak pollen-release periods for each plant type.

Genetic predisposition is probably the most important factor in hay fever development. That is, those who have an existing allergic condition such as asthma or who have immediate family members with such existing conditions are more likely to develop hay fever.

Meanwhile, not only is hay fever a risk factor for subsequent asthma, but 80% of asthma sufferers according to ARIA (Allergic Rhinitis and its impact on Asthma – WHO) have concomitant rhinitis, poor control of which is a risk factor for asthma exacerbations [2]. Essentially, hay fever is an allergy to pollen, but it can also be triggered by other allergens such as dust mites, or the saliva and skin particles shed by animals. The body makes allergic antibodies (IgE) to these substances and when exposed to them, presents with symptoms of an allergic reaction.


Figure one: UK Pollen Chart. (Source: AllergyUK / University of Worcester)

Can hay fever ‘go away’ naturally?

Usually, the main factor that causes hay fever to disappear is seasonal change. In the colder months, where the pollen is low, hay fever is much less likely to cause an exacerbation of allergic symptoms. A good protocol of natural remedies could help reduce hay fever symptoms, however. Ingredients such as ginger, which is known to slow down histamine production by reducing Ige levels in the body, can be useful when treating hay fever symptoms.

As we get older, symptoms of hay fever can lessen, however hay fever does not always completely go away. The best thing someone can do is to manage their symptoms, by setting up a protocol of nutritional supplements and suitable medications while preparing for high pollen days [3] during the hay fever season.

Can children get hay fever?

The prevalence of hay fever in children in the UK is 10.1% and 15.3% for 6‐7 and 13‐14-year-olds respectively. Pollen is usually at its highest during Spring and Summer, and this peak hay fever season can affect schoolchildren with their examinations, since most exams are taken in the summer months, when grass pollen levels are at their highest.

Epidemiological evidence suggests smaller family size, urban environments and reduced exposure to infectious diseases is involved and appear to have a particular effect during early life of children who develop allergies and hay fever [4].

Hygiene is also a major factor contributing to the increase in hay fever, asthma, and atopic sensitization in westernized countries, with research suggesting one of the factors for increased likelihood of developing hay fever is less exposure to bacteria and pathogens during earlier years . Hay fever season can also affect children’s quality of life and can have detrimental effects on sleep, behaviour, and family dynamics [5].

What are safe hay fever treatments for children?

Conventional over-the-counter treatments can help with itching, runny nose and sneezing. Meanwhile, if your child is running a temperature in conjunction with these symptoms, it may not always be hay fever and it is advisable to consult your GP.

Hay fever treatments for children are available from the pharmacy without prescription in the form of drops, tablets, or liquid. Nasal sprays can also be helpful at alleviating symptoms, although these are not usually available without a doctor’s prescription.

What are my alternatives to taking antihistamine?

From a lifestyle perspective, shower as soon as it is possible to do so after pollen exposure. If one of the hay fever symptoms is aggravated, such as itchy dry skin, then have a cold shower so as not to overheat the skin.

Try to avoid foods that promote histamine release such as dairy products, chocolate and those that contain refined sugars, especially on days where high pollen is expected. If eyes are puffy, itchy or watery try putting a cold, wet face flannel on to cool the skin. In addition, there are natural remedies for hayfever worth consideration.

Natural options for hay fever include Vitamin C, which is a natural antihistamine. Vitamin C prevents histamine release and increases the detoxification of histamine. Clinical assessment has demonstrated that 2000mg of vitamin C per day for two weeks reduced blood histamine concentrations by 30-40% in adult participants, offering benefit from conditions such as allergic rhinitis [6].

Other natural remedies include black seed oil. Black seed, which comes from the same family of plants as buttercup, has been shown to exert anti-inflammatory effects on those suffering with hay fever. Treatment with black seed oil in research has shown to have a positive effect on symptoms of hay fever, with noticeable outcomes of a reduction in nasal congestion, runny & itchy nose, and sneezing [7].

Popular natural remedies for hay fever include Quercetin, a natural bioflavonoid that inhibits the manufacture and release of histamine. Alternative allergic mediators include apple polyphenols, bromelain and beneficial bacteria.

Therapy known as Immunotherapy, is a process whereby those with a history of symptoms of allergen exposure and objective confirmation of IgE sensitivity are given repeated administration of high doses of grass pollen allergen, with the aim of inducing clinical and immunological tolerance in the recipient.

Although not suitable for all children, immunotherapy has shown capacity to reduce progression of asthma in children [8]. Many natural supplements, such as Vitamin C, can be given to children at safe doses for their age group.

Do natural remedies have side-effects like dry eyes or dopiness?

Antihistamines are the most common remedy for hay fever and have shown in research to improve symptoms of hay fever compared to placebo. However, oral antihistamines have shown to cause side effects. A systematic review looking into the effects of treatments for hay fever in adolescents and adults showed that most of the randomised controlled trials reported drowsiness, sedation, or somnolence as a common adverse effect of oral antihistamines [9].

Due to their natural properties and importance in human health, natural remedies tend to have less side effects than oral antihistamines. For example, initial studies show that oral supplementation of vitamin C can reliably lower blood histamine levels without additional side effects [10].

Meanwhile, in a small study, a nasal spray formulation containing an extract of quercetin was given immediately after the appearance of characteristic allergic nasal symptoms. Quercetin gave better relief of nasal symptoms, compared with the effect of antihistamine and caused no side effects when given at safe doses [11].

Where do I go to for natural treatments?

Many natural treatments listed above can be found in food supplements. The most common place to purchase these remedies would be from your nearest pharmacy, however this may be a great time to check out your local health food store.

Local independent health food stores often stock the best quality food supplements and are a great way of learning more about natural remedies for hay fever symptoms and treatments for other allergies, as staff are often trained and can provide you with advice on which food supplement could be better for you. There is often a variety of different food supplements to support different needs and visiting your local health food store is also a great way to help support your local community!

Article by Amy Hipwell BSc, Technical Advisor at Viridian Nutrition.

Hay fever FAQs: References

  1. Allergy UK. 2021. Allergic Rhinitis and Hay Fever, Allergy UK.
  2. Scadding GK, Kariyawasam HH, Scadding G, Mirakian R, Buckley RJ, Dixon T, Durham SR, Farooque S, Jones N, Leech S, Nasser SM, Powell R, Roberts G, Rotiroti G, Simpson A, Smith H, Clark AT. BSACI guideline for the diagnosis and management of allergic and non-allergic rhinitis (Revised Edition 2017; First edition 2007). Clin Exp Allergy. 2017 Jul;47(7):856-889. doi: 10.1111/cea.12953. PMID: 30239057.
  1. Hoyte, F., & Nelson, H. S. 2018. Recent advances in allergic rhinitis. F1000Research, 7, F1000 Faculty Rev-1333. https://doi.org/10.12688/f1000research.15367.1
  2. Matricardi PM, Rosmini F, Panetta V, Ferrigno L, Bonini S. 2002. Hay fever and asthma in relation to markers of infection in the United States. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 110:381‐387.
  3. Alker S, Khan‐Wasti S, Fletcher M, Cullinan P, Harris J, Sheikh A. Seasonal allergic rhinitis is associated with a detrimental effect on examination performance in United Kingdom teenagers: case‐control study. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2007;120:381‐387
  4. Johnston CS, Martin LJ, Cai X (April 1992). “Antihistamine effect of supplemental ascorbic acid and neutrophil chemotaxis”. J Am Coll Nutr 11 (2): 172–176.
  5. Nikakhlagh, Soheila Fakher Rahim, Faezeh Hossein Nejad Aryani Amir Syahpoush, Mehri Ghafouryan Brougerdnya, Nader Saki. 2011. Herbal treatment of allergic rhinitis: the use of Nigella sativa. American Journal of Otolaryngology , Volume 32 , Issue 5 , 402 – 407.
  6. Jacobsen L, Niggemann B, Dreborg S, et al. Specific immunotherapy has long‐term preventive effect of seasonal and perennial asthma: 10‐year follow‐up on the PAT
    study. Allergy. 2007;62:943‐948.
  7. Johnston CS, Martin LJ, Cai X (April 1992). “Antihistamine effect of supplemental ascorbic acid and neutrophil chemotaxis”. J Am Coll Nutr 11 (2): 172–176.
  8. Sheikh, A., Singh Panesar, S., Salvilla, S., & Dhami, S. (2009). Hay fever in adolescents and adults. BMJ clinical evidence, 2009, 0509.
  9. Clemetson C.A. Histamine and ascorbic acid in human blood. J Nutr. 1980;110:662–668.
  10. Remberg P., Björk L., Hedner T. Characteristics, clinical effect profile and tolerability of a nasal spray preparation of Artemisia abrotanum L. for allergic rhinitis. Phytomedicine. 2004;11(1):36–42.

The information contained in these hay fever FAQs is not intended to treat, diagnose or replace the advice of a health practitioner. Please consult a qualified health practitioner if you have a pre-existing health condition or are currently taking medication. Food supplements should not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet.