The Independent Pharmacy

Hay Fever Vs Allergies

Scott McDougall
Scott McDougallMPharmDirector & Registered Manager

Reviewed on 8 May 2024

When it comes to hay fever vs allergies, what’s the key difference? While both conditions involve your body’s immune system overreacting to harmless substances, hay fever is specifically triggered by pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds. Regular allergies, on the other hand, can be caused by a variety of other triggers like dust mites, pet dander, mould, or certain foods.

While both hay fever and allergies involve your body’s immune system overreacting to harmless substances, the triggers and patterns are quite different.

Hay fever, also called allergic rhinitis, is a type of allergy that occurs during specific seasons, mainly from spring to early autumn, when there is pollen in the air. Classic hay fever symptoms like incessant sneezing, itchy/watery eyes, nasal congestion, and headaches tend to be centred around the nose, eyes, and throat.

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Other common allergies can cause similar symptoms as hay fever, such as sneezing and itchy eyes. However, they can also lead to skin rashes, hives, and stomach issues at any time, depending on what you're allergic to, like dust, pet hair, mould, or certain foods.

Now that we’ve covered that crucial difference, let’s dive deeper into the specifics.

Key Takeaways

  • Hay fever is an allergic reaction specifically triggered by pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds that follows a seasonal pattern
  • Regular allergies can be caused year-round by indoor triggers like dust mites, pet dander, mould, or certain foods
  • Hay fever symptoms are centred around the nose, eyes, and throat - sneezing, congestion, itchy/watery eyes
  • While allergies can cause respiratory issues too, they may also lead to skin reactions, digestive problems, or other variable symptoms

Hay Fever vs Allergies at a Glance

Aspect

Hay Fever (Allergic Rhinitis)

Other Allergies

Definition

Allergic reaction specifically

triggered by pollen from trees,

grasses, and weeds.

Can be triggered by a

variety of substances, such as dust mites,

pet dander, mould, foods, and more.

Symptoms

  • Sneezing
  • Itchy/watery eyes
  • Nasal congestion
  • Headaches
  • Respiratory issues (sneezing, wheezing)
  • Skin reactions (rashes, hives)
  • Digestive problems

Seasonality

Seasonal occurrence, particularly during

high pollen times (spring through early autumn).

Can occur year-round, depending on exposure to triggers.

Triggers

Pollen from specific types of trees, grasses, and weeds.

Indoor and outdoor allergens like dust mites,

moulds, pet dander, certain foods, and insect stings.

Management Strategies

  • Monitoring pollen forecasts
  • Using air filters
  • Taking antihistamines
  • Saline nasal rinses
  • Avoiding known allergens
  • Using HEPA filters
  • Allergy shots or sublingual treatments
  • Frequent cleaning

Treatment

  • Antihistamines
  • Nasal corticosteroid sprays
  • Antihistamine eye drops
  • Antihistamines
  • Nasal corticosteroid sprays
  • Allergy shots for severe cases

Environmental Influences

Affected by weather patterns and geography;

pollen levels vary with vegetation.

Influenced by indoor environment (e.g.,

dust, mould levels) and food exposure.

What Are the Symptoms?

Allergy Symptoms

When it comes to regular allergies, there can be a wide variety of symptoms, depending on what triggers your body’s reaction.

But some common signs of allergies the NHS warns to watch out for include:

  • Respiratory issues like uncontrollable sneezing, wheezing, and a runny, stuffy or itchy nose
  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Skin rashes, hives or other irritations breaking out
  • In severe cases, difficulty breathing or anaphylaxis (throat swelling/trouble catching your breath)

The tricky thing with allergies is that the symptoms can strike at any time, since they’re often triggered by indoor culprits like:

  • Dust mites
  • Mould spores
  • Animal dander
  • Certain foods you’re allergic to

Hay Fever Symptoms

While hay fever shares some respiratory overlaps with allergies, the NHS points out a few distinct signs that point to pollen as the troublemaker:

  • Intense bouts of sneezing
  • Itchy, stuffy or runny nose
  • Red, watery, irritated eyes
  • Headaches from sinus pressure and congestion

But what really differentiates hay fever, according to the 2009 study, is its clear seasonal pattern directly linked to:

  • High pollen counts in spring, summer and early autumn
  • Quieter symptoms in winter as pollen levels drop

Unlike some allergies, hay fever doesn’t usually progress to breathing difficulties unless you also have asthma. The discomfort centres around those nasal/eye symptoms from pollen exposure.

Triggers and Environmental Influences

Allergy Triggers

When we talk about regular allergies, the list of potential triggers is really wide-ranging. It could be anything from the dust mites living in your bedding to the furry friend cuddled up next to you on the sofa. Let’s go over some of the most common allergy triggers highlighted by a study from 2019:

  • Pet dander from dogs, cats, or other animals with fur or feathers
  • Dust mites, those microscopic critters that thrive in household dust
  • Moulds, both indoor and outdoor varieties
  • Certain foods like peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, eggs or soy
  • Insect stings or bites
  • Latex and other substances

It's also worth noting how much your surroundings at home can worsen your allergy symptoms, making your personal space feel less comforting. A 2013 study published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology brings up that older homes tend to harbour more dust mites, mould, and pet dander lingering on carpets, bedding, and furniture. Using filters and dehumidifiers can help, but more on that later!

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Hay Fever Triggers

In contrast, the triggers for hay fever are a bit more straightforward - it all comes down to pollen in the air. The specific types of pollen that set off your sneezing and congestion can vary based on what plants you’re sensitive to. Common triggers of hay fever include pollens from:

  • Trees like birch, cedar and oak
  • Grasses found in fields and lawns
  • Weeds such as ragweed

The weather and your location also affect hay fever. Dry, warm, and windy days can bring more pollen into the air, but cool and rainy days can help reduce it. Pollen counts also vary by region based on the vegetation in the area.

This is why hay fever is such a seasonal issue - pollen levels rise and fall with each growing cycle. Trees tend to spread their pollen in early spring. Grasses take over in late spring/early summer. And then weeds like ragweed have their heyday in late summer and early autumn.

The good news? Eventually, winter arrives to give our poor sinuses a break from the onslaught!

Prevention and Management Strategies

Managing Allergies

While we can’t always avoid allergens completely, there are plenty of steps we can take to minimise your exposure and keep those common symptoms at bay. Here are some of my top tips for managing regular allergies:

  • Use HEPA filters in your home to help clean the air of things like dust, pet hair, and mould particles
  • Cover your bedding in dust-mite-proof protectors and wash sheets frequently in hot water
  • Vacuum regularly with a HEPA filter vacuum to capture allergens settled into carpets
  • Avoid feathered or furry pets if you’re allergic, or at least limit their access to certain rooms
  • Be mindful of pollen levels when outdoors and consider taking a daily antihistamine preventatively

Lifestyle changes can make a big difference, too. Switch to hardwood or linoleum floors that don’t harbour dust and dander. And consider replacing drapes and upholstered furniture that can trap allergens.

Managing Hay Fever

When it comes to defending against hay fever, a bit of preparation goes a long way before pollen season arrives. A few smart strategies:

  • Monitor pollen forecasts with the Met Office and try to limit outdoor activities on high-pollen days
  • Use high-efficiency air filters in your home and car to minimise pollen infiltration
  • As for the best time to take hay fever tablets, consider taking a daily antihistamine once pollen levels start rising to control symptoms
  • Use saline nasal sprays (saltwater nose sprays) like Sudafed or rinses to flush out pollen trapped in nasal passages
  • Wear a mask designed to filter out pollen particles when working or exercising outdoors

And one key tip - don’t hang your laundry outside to dry when pollen counts are elevated, as the particles can cling to fabrics. A quick rinse in the shower after being outdoors can also help rinse away any pollen hitching a ride on your skin or hair.

Treatment and Medical Consultation

Treating Allergies

Even with your best prevention efforts, allergic symptoms can still flare up from time to time. That’s when it’s helpful to have some effective treatment options in your arsenal:

  • Over-the-counter antihistamines like cetirizine (Piriteze), fexofenadine (Telfast), or loratadine (Clarityn) can provide fast onset of action and effective relief from sneezing, itching, and other symptoms. Just be aware some may cause drowsiness.
  • Nasal corticosteroid sprays like fluticasone (Flixonase) can reduce inflammation to ease congestion. These are safe for long-term use.
  • For severe allergies, allergy shots or sublingual (under-the-tongue) treatments can slowly make your body less sensitive to what triggers your allergies.

If you find that your symptoms continue despite trying these treatments, please remember it's not a reflection on your efforts. An allergist can offer personalised support, helping you find relief. They can provide professional testing to identify your specific triggers and map out the most effective management plan.

Treating Hay Fever

When pollen has you sneezing up a storm, over-the-counter remedies can provide blessed relief:

  • Hay fever tablets like cetirizine (Zirtek), fexofenadine (Treathay) or loratadine (Clarityn) are usually the first line of defence against hay fever symptoms
  • Corticosteroid nasal sprays like fluticasone (Avamys) can reduce inflammation in nasal passages when used regularly
  • Antihistamine eye drops like Opatanol can provide relief for itchy, watery eyes caused by pollen exposure

For severe or chronic hay fever, prescription nasal sprays or other allergy medications may be recommended to get symptoms under control. An allergy specialist can also provide testing to determine which specific pollens you’re reacting to.

The key is finding the right combination of hay fever treatments and preventative methods that work for your unique situation. Don’t just accept the “sniffle and suffer” life - staying proactive provides the best defence.

Take the Next Step With The Independent Pharmacy

We understand how overwhelming managing allergies can be - whether you need extra hay fever support on holiday or to navigate your daily activities with more comfort.

That's why our dedicated team at The Independent Pharmacy is ready to support you every step of the way in your health journey. Our easy online self-assessment tool allows you to quickly identify your symptoms and get tailored treatment recommendations.

Just answer a few simple questions about your situation, and a pharmacy expert will follow up with you to discuss the best over-the-counter or prescription options. No more guesswork - you’ll have personalised guidance on finding the relief you need.

At The Independent Pharmacy, we truly understand that effective allergy and hay fever care isn’t one-size-fits-all. That’s why we take the time to listen and create customised treatment plans to improve your quality of life.

So, if you’re ready to take control of your sneezing, congestion or other allergy woes, complete our online self-assessment or get in touch with our team.

And if you'd like to learn more about your condition, read through our hay fever guides. We cover all you need to know about hay fever pills - even the difference between desloratadine and loratadine.

A clear-headed, itch-free life could be just a few clicks away!

FAQs

What is the difference between hay fever and allergies?

While they share some symptoms, hay fever is specifically an allergic reaction to pollen from trees, grasses and weeds that follows a seasonal pattern. Common allergies can be triggered year-round by substances like dust, pet dander, foods or mould.

How do I know if I have hay fever?

If you experience bouts of sneezing, nasal congestion, itchy/watery eyes and sinus issues that seem to clear up in winter but return each spring/summer/autumn, hay fever is likely the culprit. Allergy testing can confirm pollen allergies.

Does hay fever count as an allergy?

Yes, hay fever is a form of outdoor allergy caused by an overactive immune response to pollen. The medical term is “allergic rhinitis.”

What does allergy fatigue feel like?

With allergies, many people experience extreme fatigue, headaches, inability to concentrate and general malaise from the constant nasal congestion and irritation. Getting quality rest can be difficult.

When is allergy season in the UK?

Pollen seasons vary each year, but the Met Office says that tree pollen typically starts rising in late March, grass pollen from mid-May through July, and weed pollen like ragweed kicks up from late June through September.

Sources:

NHS (2022). Allergies - https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/allergies/

NHS (2024). Hay fever - https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hay-fever/

Nahla Khamis Ibrahim, Abeer Ali Alghamdi, Mayar Majed Almehmadi, Asma Abdulwahed Alzahrani, Asraa Khairallah Turkistani, and Khalid Alghamdi (2019). Allergy and related clinical symptoms among medical students and interns - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6659050/

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