Plenty of sunshine, flowers and pollen; hay fever season is at its peak, with pollen counts currently at 'very high'.
Sounds of sneezing, coughing and nose-blowing fill the air as 13 million people endure the condition.
Also known as allergic rhinitis, hay fever is a condition where people react to airborne substances, particularly pollen.
Pollen is a a fine powder created by plants, as part of their reproductive cycle. It contains proteins that can cause the nose, eyes, throat and sinuses (small air-filled cavities behind your cheekbones and forehead) to become swollen, irritated and inflamed.
Sufferers usually get it between late March and September when the pollen count is high.
People with hay fever could also react to:
- tree pollen, released during spring
- grass pollen, released during the end of spring and beginning of summer
- weed pollen, released late autumn
Symptoms are similar to symptoms that accompany a flu or cold, including:
- sneezing and coughing
- a runny or blocked nose
- itchy, red or watery eyes
- itchy throat, mouth, nose and ears
- loss of smell
- pain around your temples and forehead
- feeling tired
People with asthma may also experience:
- a tight feeling in the chest
- short of breath
- wheeze and cough
You're more likely to develop hay fever if you have a family history of allergies, particularly asthma or eczema.
Hay fever will last for weeks or months unlike a cold which usually goes away after 1 to 2 weeks.
There is currently no cure for hay fever, but there are simple things you can do to ease or even prevent symptoms:
- put petroleum jelly, like Vaseline, around your nostrils to trap pollen
- wear wraparound sunglasses to stop pollen getting into your eyes
- shower and change your clothes after you’ve been outside to wash off pollen
- stay indoors whenever possible
- keep windows and doors shut as much as possible
- vacuum regularly and dust with a damp cloth
- buy a pollen filter for the air vents in your car and a vacuum cleaner with a special HEPA filter
Medicines are also available over the counter that can help ease symptoms:
- Antihistamine tablets or drops - can help to prevent an allergic reaction from occurring
- Nasal sprays
- Eye drops or sprays
Alternative treatments that you could get from your GP include:
- Steroids, also known as corticosteroids - help to reduce inflammation and swelling.
- Immunotherapy - which means you’ll be given small amounts of pollen as an injection or tablet to slowly build up your immunity to pollen. This kind of treatment usually starts in the winter about 3 months before the hay fever season begins and can take months or even years to work.
Some places have released innovative products to help tackle hay fever, such as devices that use red light therapy to reduce symptoms.
Some people can experience hay fever-like symptoms when they are exposed to other allergy-triggering substances, such as dust mites and animal fur.
Many people find their symptoms improve as they get older, with around half of people reporting some improvement in symptoms after several years and symptoms even disappearing completely in around 10-20% of people.