Health conditions

Hay fever (allergic rhinitis)

Allergic rhinitis, commonly known as hay fever, is the most common allergic disorder in Australia. Allergic rhinitis can have a significant impact on sleep, concentration, learning and daily function. Once diagnosed, allergy rhinitis can be effectively managed.

The condition is not caused by hay and does not result in fever.

Causes and trigger factors

Hay fever is caused by the nose and/or eyes coming into contact with environmental allergens, such as pollens, dust mite, moulds and animal hair.

Pollens from grasses are one of the most common causes. They can be difficult to see and are often worse in spring.

Who is most at risk?

Allergic rhinitis affects an estimated 1 in 5 Australians, both adults and children.

Signs and symptoms

Immediate signs or symptoms of hay fever (allergic rhinitis) include:

  • runny nose
  • rubbing of the nose
  • itchy nose
  • sneezing
  • itchy, watery eyes
  • congested nose
  • snoring.

Symptoms range from mild or moderate (which do not affect day-to-day functioning) to severe. Complications include:

  • sleep disturbance
  • daytime tiredness
  • headaches
  • poor concentration
  • recurrent ear infections in children
  • recurrent sinus infections in adults
  • asthma can be more difficult to control.

How to prevent allergic rhinitis

If it is possible to identify the allergen(s) causing the allergic rhinitis, then minimising exposure to the allergen(s) may reduce symptoms.

Further information on allergen minimisation is available on the ASCIA website (external site).

For those with pollen allergy, some examples of how to avoid pollens include:

  • Stay indoors when possible during pollen season, on windy days, or after thunderstorms
  • Avoid activities known to cause exposure to pollen, such as mowing grass
  • Shower after activities where you may have had a high exposure to pollen
  • Use re-circulated air in your car when pollen levels are high.

If you think you have allergic rhinitis

If symptoms persist, or affect your day-to-day activities, discuss treatment options with your general practitioner.

Treatment

Discuss treatment options with your doctor. A referral to a clinical immunology/allergy specialist may be required for further assessment, including allergy testing.

Treatment options include medication such as:

  • Intranasal corticosteroid sprays – these contain low dose steroids and are safe for long-term use.
  • Non-sedating antihistamines – these are effective in relieving symptoms and are available without prescription from a pharmacy.
  • Saline nasal sprays that can help clear nasal decongestion.
  • Decongestant nasal sprays or tablets – these should be used for a maximum of 5 days. Pregnant women and those with high blood pressure should not use decongestants.

Treatment of allergic rhinitis is important for the effective management of asthma.

Allergen immunotherapy

Allergen immunotherapy is a long-term treatment under the care of a clinical immunology/allergy specialist.

Allergen specific immunotherapy, also known as desensitisation, involves gradually increasing a person’s exposure to a known allergen by injection or sublingual drops or tablets (under the tongue).

Treatment is usually for 3 to 5 years and typically offered to people older than 5 years.

Where to get help

  • See your doctor
  • Visit a GP after hours
  • Ring healthdirect on 1800 022 222

Acknowledgements
Princess Margaret Hospital

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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