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.
The correct drugs and treatments can be effective in reducing your symptoms. You should seek advice from your doctor or a pharmacist about which medicines or treatments will relieve your particular symptoms based on their severity.
Antihistamine tablets or syrup can help with sneezing, itches and irritated eyes, but are not good for controlling nasal blockage and runny noses. Antihistamine eye drops may also help control watery eyes due to allergens. 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.
Intranasal corticosteroid nasal sprays can help with inflammation, but they need to be used regularly to have the desired effect.
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 an 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).
Last reviewed: July 2015