For millions of sufferers across the country, the arrival of warm weather brings with it the scourge of hay fever. For those hoping to enjoy the summer as usual, here’s what you need to know. 

What is hay fever, and what are its symptoms?

Hay fever is a seasonal allergic reaction to pollen from grass, trees and weeds. Around a quarter of the UK population suffers from it during the summer months, some 16 million people.

It usually affects people between March and September, due to the high pollen count – this is particularly bad when it is warm, humid and windy.

Hay fever can cause itchy eyes and throat, sneezing and a blocked nose, as well as tiredness, coughing, shortness of breath and headaches.

Is hay fever worse this year?

The Met Office is forecasting very high pollen counts for the next week in most of England and Wales, dropping to medium and low levels in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

We are currently in the peak of the grass pollen season, stretching from May to July, which most hay fever sufferers are affected by. 

Global warming has led to longer pollen seasons, and an increased amount of pollen in the air.

And according to the Met Office’s Weather Snap podcast, pollen could be especially intense at the moment. Speaking to the podcast, Yolanda Clewlow, the Met Office relationship manager for health and air quality, said: “A warm and wet May, coupled with a relatively warm spring, mean there’s a chance that the pollen that has developed is particularly potent.”

How can I manage my symptoms?

If possible, those with hay fever should avoid going outside on days with particularly high pollen counts, which can be found on the Met Office’s pollen forecast.

It is best to avoid coming into contact with pollen as much as possible: windows should be kept closed during the early morning and in the evening, when pollen levels are at their highest.

Allergy UK also recommends showering after being outside, and changing clothing, as well as drying clothes indoors to avoid pollen settling on them.

Sufferers should also steer clear of grass, smoking and keeping fresh flowers inside.

Wearing wraparound sunglasses, and a face mask could also help prevent pollen from getting into your eyes or nose – a layer of Vaseline can also be applied to your nostrils, to catch pollen when you breathe in.

What medication can I take?

There is no cure for hay fever, but the symptoms can be treated.

Antihistamines are the most common medication used to treat hay fever and are available in supermarkets and over the counter in pharmacies.

In some cases, when over-the-counter medication does not alleviate symptoms, or you suffer from other medical conditions, it is advised that you speak to a GP, who can prescribe stronger treatment.

Steroid nasal sprays can also be used to treat hay fever, with some available over the counter and others only on prescription.

Steroid injections can also be used to suppress the body’s immune response to pollen. However, these injections are no longer available on the NHS, only via private healthcare, due to a lack of evidence of its efficacy, as well as side effects such as thinning veins and rashes.