sick woman sitting on chair blowing her nose hay fever

How To Diagnose Hay Fever

What Are The Symptoms of Hay Fever?

Hay fever (Allergic rhinitis) is an allergic reaction caused by coming into contact with pollen, mold, pet dander, dust, smoke, and other common allergens.

In mild cases, these allergens trigger an immune system response causing either:

  • Runny nose
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Hives
  • Excessive sweating
  • Skin irritation or rash
  • Congestion
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Blocked ears or earaches

These symptoms can make it difficult to sleep, causing irritability. In severe cases, hay fever may cause anaphylactic allergic reactions in people with asthma, as it’s more aggressive and is commonly triggered for asthmatics.


There are 2 methods used to diagnose hay fever, using a skin prick test or an allergy blood test.

A doctor or medical professional will perform a physical examination to determine whether a skin prick test or allergy blood test is more suitable (sometimes both are recommended).

When undergoing a skin prick test, you’re pricked with a needle containing a slightly concentrated allergen and monitored for a possible allergic reaction.

If your skin turns red or you see raised bumps forming (hives), that would mean you’re prone to contracting hay fever.

When undergoing an allergy blood test, a blood sample is taken and sent to a lab for testing. The lab measures your immune system’s response to a specific allergen, which is called a radioallergosorbent test (RAST).

This measures the amount of allergy-causing antibodies in your bloodstream, most allergic reactions trigger antibodies called Immunoglobulin E (IgE).

Hay Fever vs Common Cold

Both hay fever and the common cold have many similar symptoms such as a runny nose, sneezing, and coughing, but are triggered very differently.

Hay fever is an allergic response by your body, usually focused on your sinuses. While a cold is an illness, a viral infection.

The common cold is not an allergic reaction, but your body’s immune system fighting to remove the virus and surrounding bacteria. A cold is usually focused on the sinuses and respiratory tract.

Hay Fever vs The Flu (Influenza)

The difference between hay fever and the flu is that the flu is specifically caused by the influenza virus. The influenza virus targets the sinuses, lungs, and throat.

There are 2 main types of influenza, type A and type B. Both types of flu are mainly spread every fall and winter season.

Vaccines exist for both influenza types A and B, strengthening your immune system. These are commonly taken by older individuals and children as their immune responses are much weaker.

Hay Fever vs Coronavirus (COVID-19)

The difference between hay fever and coronavirus (COVID-19) is that the coronavirus, like the flu, are both viruses and not an allergic reaction like hay fever.

The novel coronavirus is a highly infectious and dangerous virus that’s spread through mucus, water, and air.

Symptoms of the coronavirus differ drastically, depending on your immune system’s strength, age, diet, and overall health.

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 include:

  • Fever
  • Dry cough

  • Tiredness
  • Aches and pains
  • Sore throat
  • Diarrhea
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Headache
  • Loss of taste or smell

Serious hay fever symptoms include:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Loss of speech or movement

Unlike hay fever, the coronavirus has a small chance of causing death, especially in people who are immunocompromised, autoimmune, and older individuals.

sick woman sneezing blowing her nose hay fever

Medical Treatments and Medications

Treating hay fever can be done in a variety of different ways including seeking medical treatments and medication, dietary changes, and natural remedies.

Depending on the severity of the reaction, you need to seek treatments accordingly. For mild symptoms, natural remedies and healthy dietary changes can be enough to treat and prevent hay fever.

If you’re prone to severe reactions or asthma attacks, you must seek medication or medical treatments which usually include an inhaler or medicated puffer.

Children are highly prone to bacterial infections and allergens, it’s best to consult your doctor about early treatments to prevent hay fever.

As always, consult your medical professional in any case where before making changes to your lifestyle.

Nasal Corticosteroids

Corticosteroids are found in either nasal sprays or pills which help prevent and treat nasal inflammation as well as reduces swelling and mucus production in the nasal passageway.

For most people, nasal corticosteroids are a safe, long-term treatment with little side effects such as nasal irritation and a bad smell.

These are the most commonly prescribed types of medications for treating Allergic rhinitis symptoms such as nasal itching, runny nose, congestion, sneezing, and sinus pressure-related headaches. Examples of synthetic corticosteroid medications include:

  • Mometasone (Nasonex) and budesonide (Rhinocort), are both nasal sprays with a steroid used to treat nasal symptoms, which are only available by prescription.
  • Betamethasone (Celestone)
  • Triamcinolone (Nasacort Allergy 24 Hour)
  • Prednisone (Prednisone Intensol)
  • Fluticasone (Flonase Allergy Relief, Salmeterol)
  • Prednisolone (Orapred, Prelone)
  • Budesonide (Rhinocort Allergy)
  • Triamcinolone (Aristospan Intra-Articular, Aristospan Intralesional, Kenalog)
  • Methylprednisolone (Medrol, Depo-Medrol, Solu-Medrol)
  • Dexamethasone (Dexamethasone Intensol, DexPak)
  • Azelastine and fluticasone (Dymista), both of which combines an antihistamine with steroids

Oral Corticosteroids

Corticosteroid pills are concentrated anti-inflammatory drugs used to relieve severe allergy symptoms, not reactions. Examples of oral corticosteroids include:

  • Prednisone (Prednisone Intensol)
  • Fluticasone (Flonase Allergy Relief, Salmeterol)
  • Prednisolone (Orapred, Prelone)

Using corticosteroids long-term causes serious side effects, which is why they’re prescribed in small dosages for short periods of time. Some side effects include:

  • Cataracts
  • Glaucoma
  • Osteoporosis
  • Muscle weakness
  • Increased blood pressure


Antihistamines are commonly administered by pills but are usually prescribed as a nasal spray, having no effect on congestion.

Antihistamines help reduce runny noses, itching, sneezing. They work by blocking histamines, a neurotransmitter and immune response compound.

Histamines are used by the body in inflammatory responses and cause itching sensations during an allergic reaction. Examples of antihistamine medications include:

  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
  • Clemastine (Tavist)
  • Brompheniramine (Dimetane)
  • Cetirizine (Zyrtec)
  • Loratadine (Alavert, Claritin)
  • Chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton)
  • Fexofenadine (Allegra)

Prescription antihistamine nasal sprays include:

  • Azelastine (Astelin, Astepro)
  • Olopatadine (Patanase)

Antihistamine eyedrops including Ketotifen fumarate (Alaway) can help relieve eye itchiness and eye irritation caused by hay fever.


Decongestants are over-the-counter medications found in prescription liquids, tablets and nasal sprays. These are used to relieve congestion (stuffiness), which is caused by a cold virus or by the flu, sinusitis, or allergies.

Decongestants may cause several minor side effects including:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Headache

Do not consecutively use decongestant nasal sprays for more than 2 to 3 days, as it may worsen symptoms when used continuously, known as rebound congestion.

Over-the-counter (OTC) oral decongestants include:

  • Pseudoephedrine (Silfedrine, Sudafed, Suphedrin, Afrinol)
  • Phenylephrine hydrochloride (Sudafed PE, Suphedrin PE, Neo-Synephrine)
  • Oxymetazoline (Afrin, Dristan, Vicks Sinex)

Cromolyn Sodium

Cromolyn sodium is an anti-inflammatory chemical compound that can be bought as an over-the-counter nasal spray, usually administered several times a day.

It can also be found as an eye-drop, but only attainable through a prescription. Cromolyn sodium is very effective at relieving hay fever symptoms by preventing the release of histamine and other inflammatory immunoresponses.

Most effective when you start using it before you have symptoms, cromolyn sodium doesn’t have serious side effects.

Leukotriene Modifiers (leukotriene antagonists)

Leukotriene modifiers is a prescription drug in the form of a tablet, used for managing symptoms of allergic rhinitis, mild and severe allergic reactions, as well as preventing asthma.

Leukotriene is the main immunoresponse compound that causes allergic reactions. It’s the chemical that causes the tightening of airway muscles, making it difficult to breathe and the overproduction of mucus.

It’s triggered during allergies, allergic rhinitis, and asthma. Taking leukotriene modifiers effectively treats allergy-induced asthma and is often used when nasal sprays can’t be tolerated or for mild asthma. Leukotriene modifier medications include:

  • Zafirlukast (Accolate)
  • Montelukast (Singulair)
  • Zileuton (Zyflo)

Montelukast is the only approved drug specifically used for treating allergic rhinitis and other allergies. Side effects of montelukast are mostly psychological, which include:

  • Headaches
  • Agitation
  • Aggression
  • Hallucinations
  • Depression
  • In severe cases, suicidal thoughts

As always, consult a medical professional or doctor before taking any mediations or drugs, or if you’re experiencing psychological side effects.

Nasal Ipratropium Bromide

Ipratropium nasal spray is a prescription drug used for clearing runny noses caused by seasonal allergies or the common cold.

It prevents nasal glands in your nose from producing excess fluid and mucus. It’s not used for treating congestion, sneezing or postnasal drip.

Mild side effects of ipratropium bromide include:

  • Nasal dryness or dry sinuses
  • Nosebleeds
  • Sore throat
  • Blurred vision
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty urinating

It’s not recommended for people with glaucoma or men with an enlarged prostate as it may cause additional side effects.

Natural Remedies For Hay Fever

Foods High In Adaptogens

Adaptogenic foods are healthy herbs and spices that have various effects on the body, but all primarily reduce inflammation. The list of adaptogenic foods include:

  • Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus)
  • Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
  • American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius)
  • Cordyceps (Cordyceps militaris)
  • Jiaogulan (Gynostemma Pentaphyllum)
  • Eleuthero root (Eleutherococcus senticosus)
  • Goji berry (Lycium barbarum)
  • Rhodiola rosea (R. rosea)
  • Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
  • Rhodiola rosea (R. rosea)
  • Schisandra berry/Magnolia berry (Schisandra chinensis)
  • Holy basil or Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum)
  • Turmeric (Curcuma longa)

Every herb and spice can reduce inflammation, reduce stress, anxiety, fatigue, and increase stamina as well as cognitive health.

Additionally, most of these herbs are antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal which makes them effective at fighting infections, viruses, and most illnesses.

Anti-inflammatory foods are highly effective at reducing the symptoms of hay fever.

Foods High In Polysaccharides

Beta-glucans are powerful polysaccharides which drastically improve immune system strength and reducing inflammation.

Symptoms of hay fever are caused by an over-response of the immune system. Foods high in polysaccharides can drastically reduce the severity of the reactions, some of which include:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Potatoes
  • Yams
  • Mushrooms
  • Whole grains and oats

Foods High In Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that’s essential for a healthy immune system. It’s also used in reducing histamine production and reducing most hay fever symptoms. Ginger and turmeric are both high in vitamin C.

Ginger and turmeric are spices with very healthy plant-based compounds that suppress inflammatory responses, strengthen your immune system, as well as very effective at killing bacteria, viruses, and other infections.

Foods High In Antioxidants

Foods rich in antioxidants are generally powerful superfoods which are very effective at preventing severe allergic reactions, virus and bacterial infections, illnesses, and certain diseases.

Antioxidants are all around healthy compounds that also reduces oxidative stress, improve brain health and lung health.

Foods rich in antioxidants include:

Herbal and Non-Herbal Teas

Teas made from the Camellia Sinensis plant are rich in antioxidants and healthy plant-based compounds that help relieve hey fever symptoms.

Herbal and non-herbal teas great for relieving hay fever symptoms include:

Additionally, they help suppress mucus production and irritation in the respiratory tract, reducing and sometimes preventing runny noses as well as watery eyes. Chamomile tea also relieves and clears mucus buildup in the lungs.

Honey and Bee Pollen

Honey contains bee pollen, which exposes your body to small amounts of allergens. This process helps your body and immune system get used to the allergens and reduce symptoms over time.

This is partly done through a process called immunotherapy, which is used to treat allergies, virus infections like the flu, and certain types of cancer.

If you’re allergic to any ingredients, do not use them as a natural remedy.

Preventing Hay Fever

Pollen and Molds

Avoiding pollen and molds can be difficult depending on your lifestyle, but it can be easily manageable while taking precautions:

  • Keep the doors and windows of your home closed
  • Don’t hang clothes or laundry outside
  • Air condition and properly ventilate your home and car
  • In severe cases, use an allergy-grade filter in your home’s ventilation system
  • Avoid staying outdoors for a long time in the morning, that’s when pollen count is at its highest
  • Wearing a facemask when dusting and cleaning the house or while doing backyard work
  • Avoid mowing the lawn and raking leaves
  • Using a dehumidifier in your room or home to reduce humidity
  • Keeping the windows closed while driving
  • Changing clothes daily and proper hygiene

Dust and Dust Mites

  • Remove or thoroughly clean old furniture, curtains, and rugs
  • Wash your clothes and sheets with water heated to at least 54°C (130°F)
  • Changing mattresses or adding an allergy-proof cover over your bed sheets
  • Vacuum and disinfect your home regularly
  • Using an insecticide spray specifically for dust mites, ticks, and other acaricides
  • Removing floor carpeting as they’re highly prone to attracting dust mites

Pet Dander

  • Using baking soda by sprinkling it over pungent areas, as it absorbs most of the oils and smell
  • Keeping your pets outdoors for most of the day
  • Cleaning or bathing your pets a few times a week depending on your sensitivity
  • Cleaning pet accessories
  • Brush your pets outdoors once a week
  • Clean and replace dander traps
  • Keeping your pets out of your bedroom

Smoke and Cigarettes

  • Avoid smoking areas
  • Reduce and try to eliminate all forms of smoking
  • Keep distance between family members and friends who smoke
  • Keep a filer in your bedroom or car to trap smoke and other airborne compounds

Cockroaches and Other Insects

  • Sealing broken areas and holes around the home
  • Fixing leaky pipes
  • Washing dishes regularly
  • Taking out the garbage regularly and properly storing it
  • Vacuuming
  • In extreme cases, pest extermination

Articles and Sources

Articles and Sources

1. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG) (2020 April 23) Hay fever: Overview

2. BMJ. (1998 March 14) Summer hay fever

3. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG) (2020 April 23) Allergies: Overview

4. Allergy Asthma Proc. (1998 September 05) Natural History of Hay Fever: A 23-year Follow-Up of College Students

5. Br J Gen Pract. (2004 June 01) Hayfever — practical management issues

6. NPJ Prim Care Respir Med. (2018 January 23) Tell me about your hay fever: a qualitative investigation of allergic rhinitis management from the perspective of the patient

7. Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG). (2006 January 07) Hay fever: Which medications can relieve allergic rhinitis?

8. Nutr J. (2010 November 18) Immunomodulatory dietary polysaccharides: a systematic review of the literature

Written by: Christopher Karam | ✔️ Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Riad M., M.D – G.P and Micheal B., M.D | Last Updated: 2020 July 07

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