Hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, is a condition that results when the body's immune system overreacts to allergens in the air, such as pollen, mold, dust mites, and pet dander.
Despite how its name sounds, hay fever does not actually cause a fever. The name hay fever came from the popular idea in the 19th century that the smell of hay in the summer caused illness. But if you have hay fever, your body temperature will not go up.
Hay fever sufferers are not alone—roughly 7.8% of people 18 and over in the U.S. have hay fever.1 Common symptoms can include sneezing, congestion, a runny nose, and itchy eyes.
Hay Fever Symptoms
Hay fever is not really a fever—it’s an allergic reaction to pollen or other allergens in the air. It can cause symptoms such as sneezing, congestion, itchy eyes, runny nose and more.
Here are some common symptoms of hay fever:
- Nasal congestion
- Runny nose
- Itchy, watery eyes
- Itchy or sore throat
- Itchy nose
- Itchy skin
- Postnasal drip (mucus flowing behind your nose into your throat)
If you have asthma, you may experience more severe symptoms when allergens aggravate and inflame your airways, leading to asthma symptoms including:
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest tightness or pain
If you have hay fever, you have a greater risk of developing problems such as sinus infections and nasal polys. Talk to a doctor if you experience severe symptoms or are unable to get relief.
Learn more about other common allergy symptoms here.
How Long Does Hay Fever Last?
Symptoms of hay fever can start immediately after exposure to allergens and can last as long as you remain exposed to the allergen. If you are allergic to pollen, you might notice sneezing and sniffling when you go outdoors when pollen counts are high. Or, if you are allergic to dust mites that thrive in pillows and bedding, your symptoms might be worse when you rest at night.
Symptoms can be occasional, or they can be ongoing, where you deal with them on a daily basis. As long as you are exposed to allergens, you can have hay fever symptoms. Those who have seasonal allergies may only experience hay fever symptoms during a particular season, depending on what they are allergic to.
Is Hay Fever Contagious?
No, hay fever is not contagious. Its name may be confusing, but allergic rhinitis is not the same as infectious rhinitis, otherwise known as the common cold. Hay fever is an immune system overreaction caused by an allergen, and it’s symptoms cannot be transmitted from one person to another. Worried your symptoms may be caused by a cold? Visit our helpful Cold vs Allergies guide.
What Causes Hay Fever (Allergic Rhinitis)?
Hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, occurs when the immune system reacts to something in the environment, such as pollen or pet dander. The immune system sees the allergens as a threat and sets off a chain reaction to defend against allergy triggers.
Histamine is released by immune cells, signaling more immune responses to fight allergens. This can lead to processes that cause your symptoms, like sneezing, coughing, runny nose, and watery eyes. Think of these symptoms as your body’s way of trying to flush the allergens out of your system.
Some allergens that can trigger hay fever symptoms include pollen, mold, dust mites, cockroaches, and pet dander.
Perennial vs. Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis
You can have hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, at any time of the year.
Perennial allergic rhinitis can happen year-round. It can be caused by allergy triggers that are always around—especially indoor allergens, such as dust mites, cockroaches, and pet dander. If you have allergy symptoms like runny nose and sneezing that stick around no matter the season, you may have perennial allergic rhinitis.
Seasonal allergic rhinitis occurs during certain times of the year, depending on your allergy triggers and where you live. Common triggers are pollens from trees, grasses, and weeds. Seasonal allergies often occur in the spring, summer, and early fall when trees and weeds bloom and pollen counts are higher.
Allergic Rhinitis Treatments: How To Stop Hay Fever
Unfortunately for allergy sufferers, hay fever does not have a permanent cure. However, you can manage and minimize symptoms by reducing your exposure to allergens and using treatments for relief.
For indoor allergy sufferers, there are some simple steps you can take to reduce your exposure to allergens.
- Use a dehumidifier to reduce the humidity in your home. This helps eliminate allergens like mold and dust mites that thrive in humid environments.
- Pollen is a powdery substance that can travel through the air into open windows. Keep the windows closed to reduce the amount of pollen in your home.
- Keep your home clean and clutter-free. Clean surfaces and floors, vacuum carpets and rugs, and dust your home regularly.
- Wash your bedding once a week with hot water and dry it thoroughly.
- Keep pets, and their dander, off your bed and out of your bedroom.
Learn more tips to reduce indoor allergies by visiting our guide.
For outdoor allergy sufferers, here are some tips to help you enjoy the outdoors with fewer allergy symptoms.
- Stay indoors, especially when pollen counts are high.
- If you have been spending time outdoors, pollen can stick to you—change your clothes and bathe after you come inside.
- It is best for allergy sufferers to let someone else do yard work during heavy pollen seasons. If you have to rake leaves or mow the lawn, wear a dust mask and goggles.
Learn more tips to reduce outdoor allergies by visiting our guide.
Over-the-counter and prescribed medicines can help with hay fever allergy symptoms.
- Nasal sprays can help with sneezing and runny noses. For example, decongestant nasal sprays reduce nasal congestion and make it easier to breathe through your nose. Steroid nasal sprays work to reduce inflammation that causes allergy symptoms.
- Antihistamines like BENADRYL® are a type of medication that helps relieve hay fever allergy symptoms. They work by blocking histamine's action, a chemical released by immune cells in your body when you encounter an allergy trigger. BENADRYL® Allergy ULTRATABS® Tablets and BENADRYL® Allergy Dye-Free LIQUI-GELS® have 25 mg of the antihistamine diphenhydramine. BENADRYL® Allergy Plus Congestion for Sinus Pressure & Nasal Congestion Relief has 25 mg diphenhydramine and 10 mg of phenylephrine, a nasal decongestant to help with stuffy nose.
Why Is It Called Hay Fever?
Even though the word “fever” implies a high body temperature, hay fever has nothing to do with an actual fever. The name hay fever came from the popular idea in the 19th century that the smell of hay in the summer caused illness.
Does Hay Fever Cause a Fever?
No, hay fever does not cause a fever. Your body temperature might increase for other reasons, such as a cold virus or other infection, but not from allergies.
Does Pregnancy Cause Hay Fever?
No, pregnancy does not cause hay fever. However, sometimes pregnancy causes allergy symptoms to change. They can get worse, stay the same, or even improve. When people are pregnant, they often develop stuffy noses. It’s called pregnancy rhinitis, and it can make you feel stuffed up as if you had a cold or allergy.