Allergy & Hay Fever

Allergy – causes, symptoms and treatment

Allergy is widespread in the UK, millions of adults suffer from at least one allergy and the numbers continue to rise1. The causes behind allergies have not been entirely clarified, but the risk of developing an allergy increases if one parent or both parents have it. It is likely that environment and lifestyle are influential factors as well.

Allergies appear when the immune system of the body overreacts to substances, which normally are not dangerous, such as shed skin flakes, house dust and pollen circulating in the air. These irritating substances are called allergens and can cause allergic symptoms when they get stuck in the mucous membrane of the nose or the lower respiratory tract. The allergy can either be seasonal or perennial. If the allergy is seasonal the symptoms will only occur during certain times of the year, while perennial allergy will be causing problems all year around. Hay fever is a seasonal allergy, while mite and pet allergies are perennial allergies.

Often the allergy starts appearing among children of school age but it also occurs in adults. It is not possible to completely prevent an allergy, but there are many effective medicines that can ease the symptoms and help you to live a normal life in spite of the disease. It is important to control the allergy early on, otherwise it may develop into asthma.

Symptoms of allergy

Allergies are sometimes commonly referred to as hay fever because the symptoms are similar to those that you get during a cold. A runny nose, a congested nose, sneezing, itchy and watery eyes are common hay fever symptoms, but, as opposed to a cold the symptoms may persist and vary according to the level of allergen exposure. Another sign that you are dealing with an allergy is that you will have long lasting sneezing attacks instead of singular sneezes and that the mucus is watery and clear. The symptoms most often occur within a few minutes after you have come into contact with the irritating substance. Long lasting tiredness is another common symptom of allergy.

If the allergy is affecting the lower airways, it may cause the classical asthma symptoms such as continuous cough, wheezing breath and shortness of breath.

Treatment of pollen allergy and other allergies

An important part of the allergy treatment is to, avoid what you're allergic to but of course that is not always possible. In such cases it is good to know that there are medicines that can ease the symptoms so that the quality of your life won't get affected.

When it comes to mild and short lasting problems caused by allergy to pollen and other allergens, you may first try an over-the-counter treatment such as antihistamine pills, which neutralise part of the allergic reaction of the nasal mucous membrane. Antihistamine pills can ease your nose from running, sneezing and eye problems but is not as efficient for nasal congestion. Antihistamine is also available as a nasal spray. When it comes to more severe and long lasting symptoms a nasal spray containing so called glucocorticoids is often used, that is a medicine similar to cortisone. The cortisone relieves the inflammation in the nose.

For many however, the over-the-counter allergy medicines are not enough and if you are not getting better within a couple of weeks you should contact your doctor. If you are not sure about what is causing your allergy you might need to go through a thorough allergy testing. The doctor may also prescribe stronger medicines. In some sprays, for example, cortisone and antihistamine are combined for a stronger effect. The advantage of such medication is that it eases the inflammation of the nose and eases the symptoms.

The objective of the treatment is for you to be free from problems and able to live a normal life in spite of the allergy. If your problems remain even though you are taking allergy medicine you should talk to your doctor about trying out something else.

Do not give up - there might very well be a treatment that works for you.


1. Date accessed December 2015. 

2. Bousquet, ARIA Guidelines, J Allergy Clin Immunol 2008;63(suppl 86)

UK/GEN/15/0057              Date of preparation: December 2015 

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