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What causes hay fever?

3-minute read

Hay fever is caused by different allergens indoors or outside. It is not caused by an allergy to food.

House dust

House dust contains substances including house dust mites, hair, smoke, dirt, fibres, mould spores, pollen grains, insects, the hair and skin of pets (called dander), as well as saliva and poo of insects, mites and pets.

House dust mites are one of the most common triggers for hay fever and they are very widespread in Australia. They are found in mattresses, bed bases, pillows, carpets and upholstered furniture. Although they are present all year round, their numbers usually peak during humid periods. There is no product that can completely remove house dust mites, but using dust mite covers, washing bedding in hot water, vacuuming and cleaning regularly and reducing humidity in the house will all help.

Pets

Many people are allergic to household pets, especially cats and dogs. Their allergens are found in the animal’s fur and in house dust and can remain in the air for long periods of time. People who are allergic to these animals may also react to allergens from other animals such as horses, rabbits and guinea pigs.

The best way to avoid pet allergens is to remove the animal from your home. If you can’t do that, at least keep the animal out of bedrooms and living areas.

Pollens

Pollens are produced by trees, grasses, flowers and other plants. The pollen season varies depending on where you live, but it can last for months.  The grass pollen season usually occurs between late September and Christmas in Australia, with most pollen in the air between 6am and noon.

Most of the pollen that causes allergies is produced by airborne pollen from introduced northern hemisphere grasses, trees and weeds such as Pellitory weed, Paterson's Curse, Ragweed and Parthenium.

The best way to avoid pollen is to stay inside when pollen counts are high.

Fungi

Fungi, such as mould, can release large amounts of allergenic spores both indoors and outdoors. It is found indoors in bathrooms and kitchens, or other damp places.

You can get rid of mould with bleach or special products. Make sure the house is well ventilated and remove any damp carpets or rugs. Fix leaks or overflowing gutters and vents, and remove indoor pot plants.

Occupational exposures

Occupational irritants can cause and worsen the symptoms of hay fever. They include different forms such as fumes, dust, vapours and gases, or different types such as chlorine or wood dust.

People can become allergic to proteins in the substances they come into contact with every day at work. These include latex, wheat, enzymes and mites that may be in stored cereal, fish or crustacean proteins washing powder, rats and mice.

The correct 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.

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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