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Woman lying on grass sneezing.

Woman lying on grass sneezing.
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Hay fever (allergic rhinitis)

What is hay fever?

Hay fever is the common term for 'allergic rhinitis'. It’s caused by an allergic response to outdoor or indoor allergens such as pollen, dust mites, fungal spores, animal fur or occupational sources.

Allergens are most commonly proteins or enzymes that can cause the nose, eyes, throat and sinuses (small air-filled cavities behind your cheekbones and forehead) to become swollen, irritated and inflamed.

When you have an allergic reaction, your body overreacts to something that it perceives as a threat. In hay fever, the ‘threat’ is the allergen (the substance that you are allergic to).

Your immune system (the body’s natural defence system) starts to respond as if it’s being annoyed by a parasite, and will release a number of chemicals designed to prevent the spread of what it wrongly perceives as an infection. These chemicals then cause the symptoms of the allergic reaction such as watering eyes and a runny nose.

Hay fever symptoms include:

  • sneezing
  • a runny nose
  • itchy eyes.

These symptoms are caused when a person has an allergic reaction to an allergen such as pollen which is a fine powder released by plants as part of their reproductive cycle.

Hay fever usually begins in childhood or during the teenage years, but you can acquire it at any age. It affects up to 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 share many of their risk and trigger factors including a genetic predisposition to develop allergic reactions.

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).



Last reviewed: July 2015

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