What is hay fever?
Hay fever is the common term for 'allergic rhinitis'. It’s caused by an allergic response when the immune system reacts to something (referred to as an 'allergen') indoors or outside.
It causes the nose, eyes, throat and sinuses (small air-filled cavities behind your cheekbones and forehead) to become swollen, irritated and inflamed.
These allergens would be harmless for most people. But if you have hay fever, your immune system (the body’s natural defence system) starts to respond as if it’s under threat, and releases a number of chemicals including histamine. This results in swelling and inflammation.
Hay fever symptoms include:
- a runny nose
- itchy eyes
Hay fever make asthma symptoms worse or can trigger an asthma attack, even if your asthma is normally well controlled.
Hay fever usually begins in childhood or during the teenage years, but you can develop it at any age. It affects nearly 1 in 5 Australians at some point in their life, and is more likely to occur if there is a family history of allergies — particularly asthma or eczema. In fact, hay fever and asthma may be caused by the same genes and share many of the same triggers.
Most people are able to relieve their symptoms with treatment — at least to a certain extent.
Speak with your doctor if your symptoms are troublesome as you may require prescription medication.
Not sure what to do next?
If you are still concerned about your hay fever, check your symptoms with healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.
The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).
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Last reviewed: June 2019