Thinking about hay fever

The name hay fever dates back to earlier times. That name was coined because the complaints then mainly occurred during the hay season. In fact, however, it is a misnomer. The symptoms of this condition are not only caused by hay (which is actually dried grass). Plus, it won’t give you a fever.

Hay fever

Hay fever is an allergy to pollen grains from certain grasses, plants or trees. This can already happen with very small amounts of pollen. Colloquially, this pollen is also called pollen. Pollen can be spread in different ways. For example, there is pollen from plants, which is spread by:

  • the wind. This is pollen with a light weight;
  • insects. The pollen spread by insects is too heavy to blow away.



Our immune system is intended to neutralize harmful substances that enter the body. With an allergy, this immune system not only responds to harmful substances, but also to substances that are not harmful. During such an attack by our immune system, a substance called histamine is released. This histamine causes the symptoms of an allergy.


With hay fever, the body reacts with a sneezing and mucus reaction. This makes it more difficult to breathe through the nose and your eyes become irritated or itchy. Some people only suffer from one complaint, others have multiple complaints.
Frequently occurring complaints are:

  • nasal complaints . This is because the nasal mucosa becomes swollen, resulting in a burning and itching sensation. That burning and itching feeling can lead to sneezing fits. The swollen nasal mucous membranes block the drainage from the paranasal sinuses to the nose, which becomes blocked. This causes a full feeling in the head and a nagging headache above the bridge of the nose and the eyes. If this is not treated, sinusitis can develop. The nasal complaints mentioned usually resemble the complaints of a cold, which keeps getting worse;
  • itchy eyes or a burning sensation in the eyes, resulting in tears. The eyelids may swell, the whites of the eyes turn red and you may become hypersensitive to light;
  • itching or tickling feeling in the mouth, throat and ears . There may also be a dry and burning sensation in the throat;
  • dry tickly cough , shortness of breath or wheezing. It can even lead to an asthma attack;
  • itchy and irritated skin . The skin may also become red and swell (hives);
  • become tired more quickly and suffer from headaches and lethargy.


Hay fever period

Hay fever can occur from January to October. Allergy to grass pollen is most common and worst in June. But all kinds of other plants and trees can also cause allergic complaints. As a result of the warm autumns and mild winters, the hay fever period is getting longer.

Hay fever and age

Like other allergies, hay fever usually builds up slowly. The first symptoms often occur between the ages of 8 and 25. Someone aged 40 is not likely to suffer from hay fever for the first time in their life. When someone suffers from hay fever for the first time, the complaints will generally return every year. With age, hay fever symptoms decrease. The complaints usually become much less after the age of 40. By the age of 55, such complaints have largely disappeared.

Hay fever: over-the-counter medicines and GP

Over-the-counter medicines

Depending on the severity of the complaints, there are various medicines that can reduce these complaints. For example, there are anti-allergy medications called antihistamines. These anti-allergy medicines are the most commonly used medicines for hay fever. The antihistamines block the action of the substance released during allergies, the histamine. You can also use antihistamines for allergies to pets or dust mites. The antihistamines are available in tablet, drink and drop form. This medicine works for approximately 24 hours against eye, ear, nose and skin complaints. They usually only need to be taken once a day.


Examples of antihistamines are: cetirizine and loratadine. If these products are administered as a nasal spray, they not only reduce nasal complaints, but also eye complaints. Of course, there are also eye drops, but they only work for eye complaints. The effect of nose and eye drops begins within fifteen minutes and lasts for approximately 12 hours. That is why the drops usually have to be used twice a day. An example of such eye drops or nasal spray is azelastine.


If the hay fever complaints:

  • not reduced by an over-the-counter medicine;
  • lead to shortness of breath or shortness of breath;
  • a red, swollen and painful eye;
  • persistent earache or headache;
  • when the complaints only occur on one side of the head,

it is advisable to go to the doctor if you have hay fever complaints. The doctor can determine whether it is hay fever or whether something else could be going on. The patient’s medical history, the physical examination and the patient’s complaints can provide the doctor with sufficient information to diagnose hay fever and discuss possible treatment.


Children can also suffer from hay fever. If the child is younger than 8 years old and has complaints for the first time, it is wise to go to the doctor.

Referral to a specialist

If it is not clear whether there is an allergy and/or which allergy is involved, the GP can refer the patient to a specialist. Hay fever is often accompanied by food allergies. Then there is a cross allergy, where the allergy to pollen or pollen is the cause of an allergy to a specific food. The other way around is also possible.
There are two ways in which the doctor can determine which allergy the patient is reacting to, namely:

  • blood tests;
  • the prick test.



During the prick test, small amounts of extracts of pollen or pollen are dropped onto the skin and a small hole is punctured or a scratch is made in that area. If a patient is allergic, he will experience an allergic reaction around the injection site within half an hour.

Common allergies include:

  • dust mite allergy;
  • allergy to animal hair, feathers and dander;
  • allergy to mold.


Combat hay fever complaints

An important measure to combat hay fever complaints is to avoid pollen. Options to avoid this are:

  • keep windows and doors closed as much as possible during the pollen season;
  • keep an eye on the hay fever weather reports (radio, TV). After all, in dry weather with a lot of wind, most pollen is in the air;
  • usually you will find most pollen in the countryside in the morning, in the city in the evening;
  • during the pollen season, regularly wipe furniture and surfaces in the house with a damp cloth;
  • do not let worn clothing hang over a chair;
  • choose a holiday destination with a sea or high mountains, where there is less chance of hay fever;
  • wear sunglasses outside during this period to protect your eyes from pollen;
  • choose brightly colored flowers in the garden (hydrangea, azalea, lobilia and lily varieties). The pollen of these plants is carried by insects, it is too heavy to be blown away by the wind.



In addition to previous measures, hay fever can also be treated with medicines. When medication is used properly, hay fever complaints can be suppressed excellently and a person can function perfectly.

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