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Hay fever treatments

3-minute read

Hay fever can pose a serious threat to your health if you have asthma, because it increases your chance of admission to hospital and the need for steroid medication.

It can also have a negative impact on your quality of life. People with very bad hay fever often find that it can disrupt their productivity at school or work, they can be tired and run-down due to poor sleep quality, and it can also be socially embarrassing.

You can control your symptoms with medications. Some of them are only suitable for adults. You should ask a pharmacist for advice before buying any hay fever medicines for yourself or for a child.

Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when taking or giving any medicines, and if you are pregnant you should discuss the risks and benefits with a pharmacist before taking any medicines.

Nasal corticosteroid nasal sprays reduce inflammation in the lining of the nose and are the most effective treatment for hay fever. They will help to control itching, sneezing, runny and blocked nose and itchy eyes. You can buy nasal corticosteroids over the counter or your doctor can give you a prescription for a stronger version. You need to take this medicine regularly and long term for it to be effective.

Antihistamine tablets or syrup can help with sneezing, itches and irritated eyes, and can help with a runny nose but are not as good for controlling congestion. Antihistamine eye drops may help control watery eyes. Antihistamines treat hay fever by blocking the action of the chemical histamine which the body releases when it thinks it's under attack from an allergen. This prevents the symptoms of the allergic reaction from occurring.

Combination drugs, which contain an antihistamine and a decongestant, are available, but these must be used with caution. The decongestant can cause many side effects such as irritation of the lining of your nose, nausea or headaches. Decongestant sprays unblock and dry the nose, but they should not be used for more than a few days. This is because they can cause problems such as rebound congestion (when your symptoms become worse after you stop using the decongestant). Decongestant tablets also unblock and dry the nose but they can have ‘stimulant’ side effects such as tremors, difficulty sleeping, anxiety or increased blood pressure.

Natural products, such as saltwater nasal sprays or douches (a stream of water shot into the nose), can also help relieve symptoms.

Since medicines only reduce the severity of symptoms, a treatment option may be allergen-specific immunotherapy (also known as 'desensitisation'). This therapy tries to switch off the allergic reaction by repeatedly introducing small doses of allergen extracts by injection or via drops under the tongue. This is a long-term option which is often administered over a few years, and should only be initiated by a medical specialist such as a clinical immunologist.

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).

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: June 2019

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