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  • Hay fever symptoms: mild, moderate and severe

Hay fever symptoms: mild, moderate and severe

1 in 5 Trusted source NHS inform Government Source Scotland's National Health Information Service Go to source people living in the UK struggle with allergies at some point during their lives.

Hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, is a very common condition caused by an allergic reaction to grass or tree pollens. While many people may experience mild symptoms that are an inconvenience, others react much more severely and find that their quality of life is impacted.

Keep reading to learn about the different ways pollen can impact the body. This list contains mild, moderate and severe symptoms and will provide suggestions for managing each one.

Medically reviewed by Dr. Caroline Fontana Written by our editorial team Last reviewed 15-05-2024


Sneezing is a common response when your body comes into contact with an allergen. Whether it’s dust, pollen or pet dander, sneezing helps you to remove irritants from your nose and throat.

Sneezing is an involuntary action that can be annoying or disruptive. However, it is one of the milder symptoms of allergic rhinitis.

A woman holding a tissue and sneezing due to surrounding pollen.

To prevent sneezing during high pollen levels, consider applying a barrier balm around your nostrils before leaving the house. This may help trap pollen and stop it from entering your nose.

You could also clear your nasal passages with a saltwater solution once per day. This will help to rinse out any pollen particles that may be trapped there.

Red, watery eyes

Some people with hay fever find that their eyes are particularly sensitive to pollen, causing them to become red and watery.

When your body detects an allergen (which it perceives as a threat), it releases something called histamine. To protect your cells, histamine causes swelling and inflammation in your body.

Red, watery eyes are caused by the swelling of blood vessels in the eyes. It doesn’t usually cause changes to your vision but it can be irritating - especially if they’re itchy too.

To manage this symptom of hay fever, consider wearing sunglasses to shield your eyes from pollen when you go outside. Some people also find that eye mists can relieve irritation. Rinsing your eyes with an eye wash can help ease discomfort before going to bed.


As previously mentioned, when our body detects an allergen it releases a chemical called histamine. This causes inflammation in the body which, for many people, presents as congestion.

A woman suffering from a painful headache.

It’s common to experience congestion headaches (a stuffy head) during hay fever season. It can feel similar to a head cold and distract you from your daily activities. Over-the-counter pain relief may be helpful if the headaches are particularly troublesome.

To improve sinus congestion, make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day. This will help to thin the mucus in your nasal passages, making it easier for the cells in your nose to expel pollen or other allergens.

Runny or blocked nose

If you experience congestion headaches during the allergy season, you may also be experiencing a blocked or runny nose.

A runny nose can be an annoyance and is caused by excess mucus. However, a blocked nose can impact your days and nights by making it difficult to breathe.

A blocked nose can be frustrating and challenging - especially if it causes long periods of disrupted sleep. It is more of a moderate to severe symptom.

Steaming can help to clear the nasal passages when your nose is blocked. Some steroid or antihistamine nasal sprays can also reduce inflammation and provide relief.


Some hay fever sufferers become very fatigued because their symptoms impact their sleep. Blocked sinuses can leave you tossing and turning for hours, or continually wake you up throughout the night.

Struggling to sleep for weeks or months can greatly impact your quality of life. Your hay fever symptoms are considered to be severe if they interrupt your sleep, leave you feeling tired the next day and disrupt your concentration.

A business woman yawning at work and struggling with tiredness.

To improve your chances of a good night’s sleep, make sure to shower before bed and put on a clean pair of clothes. Wash your bed sheets regularly and vacuum the mattress to remove any pollen particles.

Keep windows closed too. That way, pollen can’t enter your bedroom.

Itchy throat, mouth, nose or ears

Itching of the throat, mouth, nose or ears are characteristic symptoms of hay fever. It can be highly distracting and leave you struggling to concentrate throughout the workday.

Itching happens when pollen is inhaled through the nose and mouth. Like other hay fever symptoms, it is the body's release of histamine that causes this to happen.

To lower the amount of histamine in your body, you may benefit from following a low-histamine diet. Foods like aged cheeses and meats are high in this chemical component. Cutting them out may improve your hay fever symptoms.

In addition to this, drink plenty of water to help wash any pollen from your throat. Blowing your nose regularly may also help to remove pollen that’s causing itching.

Swollen eyelids

One of the most severe hay fever symptoms is swelling of the eyes. Those who are particularly sensitive to pollen may find that their eyes (or even face) swell up as a result of high pollen levels.

Close-up of a woman with a very swollen, puffy eyelid

If you struggle with this, try to regularly wash your face to remove any pollen particles. After this, take care to rinse your eyes and use a cold compress to reduce the swelling. When the pollen count is particularly high, try to stay indoors.

You may benefit from speaking with a doctor or online health professional. In addition to eye drops, a strong antihistamine may help to improve your condition.

Hay fever symptoms for asthma sufferers

For those with asthma, you may notice that you’re prone to allergies. In fact, common allergens like pollen are often the trigger for asthma symptoms like:

Asthma and allergic rhinitis

Pollen allergies can trigger your asthma symptoms, causing:

Image 1



chest tightness

shortness of breath

If you find that seasonal allergies are worsening your asthma, you should speak to a doctor or online health professional for advice.

How do I know if it’s hay fever or a cold?

Hay fever and the common cold share some similar symptoms however, there are key differences that can help you distinguish between the two:

Hay fever The common cold
Timing and seasonal patterns Symptoms begin suddenly after exposure to allergens like pollen. The symptoms commonly occur during spring months. Symptoms begin gradually over a few days after exposure to a virus.
Duration Symptoms tend to last as long as you are exposed to the allergen. Symptoms typically last for about 7-10 days.
Symptoms Hay fever produces a runny nose with a thin, watery discharge. Another difference is symptoms such as itching of the eyes, nose, and throat. Colds cause a runny nose with a thicker discharge that may be yellow. It may also involve a sore throat, cough, or body aches.
Medications Responds well to antihistamines and other allergy medications. Responds to over-the-counter cold remedies and pain relief medications.

Treating hay fever symptoms

Hay fever can be treated with means of prevention, natural remedies or with medication.

Always consult a healthcare professional when considering over-the-counter or prescription treatments. This is especially true for pregnant women as not all treatments are safe to take during pregnancy.

If your symptoms persist after trying natural remedies or making lifestyle adjustments, you can consider allergy relief medications.

Here at HealthExpress, we offer a range of treatment options to suit everyones needs. These can be found in the table below:

Antihistamine tablets

Eye drops

Nasal sprays

When should I see a doctor?

If your hay fever symptoms are severe and affecting your daily life despite trying over-the-counter medications, or they are causing you side effects, it may be best to speak to your doctor.

Your doctor may be able to prescribe alternative treatments, or they may recommend allergy testing to identify specific allergens triggering your symptoms. This can help tailor your treatment plan more effectively.

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