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Hay fever treatments

Our asthma nurse explains how to treat hay fever when you have asthma, so you can cut your risk of an asthma attack

It’s important to treat hay fever symptoms if you, or your child, have asthma

“By treating your hay fever, you’ll not only soothe your itchy, runny eyes and blocked nose, you’ll cut your risk of an asthma attack,” says asthma nurse Caroline.

“And to reassure you, all these hay fever treatments are safe to use with your inhalers and other asthma medicines.”

Remember your basic asthma care

  1. Carry your reliever inhaler, in case of emergencies.
  2. If you need to use it three or more times a week, see your GP urgently – you’re at risk of an asthma attack.
  3. Even if you’re treating your hay fever, don’t forget your preventer inhaler. This is the only way to reduce the swelling in your airways long-term, so you're less likely to react to any of your triggers.

“Your first defence against an asthma attack is making sure you soothe the inflammation in your airways, so they’re less likely to get irritated by pollen,” says nurse Caroline. 

Hay fever medicines for people with asthma 

Antihistamines: cheap and fast-acting

Antihistamines should take just an hour or so to work. They reduce the risk of an asthma attack by combating the allergic reaction that can trigger asthma symptoms.

 “Antihistamines are useful if you have mild hay fever symptoms that come and go,” says nurse Caroline. “Evidence shows they don’t work quite as well as steroid nasal sprays, but if they work for you, great."

If the antihistamine you’re using isn’t reducing your symptoms, speak to your pharmacist because there are lots of different types you can try.

  • Ask about non-drowsy versions if they suit you best.
  • Keep costs down by buying own brand or non-branded. They work just as well.
  • If they don’t work for you within an hour, ask about another option.

Steroid nasal sprays: most effective, but take time to work

“If you have severe hay fever that bothers you every day then using a steroid nasal spray is the best way to deal with your symptoms,” says nurse Caroline.

“They unblock your nose with tiny amounts of anti-inflammatory steroids. This means you can breathe through your nose to moisten and filter the air, so it’s less likely to irritate your already twitchy airways.

“Steroid nasal sprays also help reduce ‘nasal drip’, when mucus dribbles down your throat, making you cough and irritating your airways. Some also help with itchy eyes.”

  • Ideally, start using your nasal spray about two weeks before your ‘personal’ hay fever season normally starts, if you can tell from the forecasts. This is because they take up to two weeks to work. 
  • If it's still not working after four weeks, speak to your GP. 
  • If you’re already having symptoms, it's still worth using. 
  • Keep using it regularly throughout hay fever season 
  • If you get nosebleeds, or any other side effects, let you GP know so they can swap your medicine.

How to use a nasal spray for hay fever and allergies

Asthma UK expert nurse Suzanne shows you how to use a nasal spray.

Video: How to use a nasal spray for hay fever and allergies

Asthma UK expert nurse Suzanne shows you how to use a nasal spray.
Transcript for 'How to use a nasal spray for hay fever and allergies'

0:05 Hay fever can cause your nose to be really blocked up and uncomfortable and it can also have an impact on your asthma symptoms.

0:12 When using a nasal spray, there is a particular technique to get the best from the medication inside.

0:19 So, what we do, we start by using some tissue to blow our nose and completely make sure that our nose is as clear as we can get it.

0:27 Then you take your nasal spray, remove the cover there. Take the nozzle - and that's going to go into one nostril.

0:36 When you put it into your nostril, point it towards your ear so it will be at that angle.

0:42 To start with, you put your head all the way down - so tilt your head forwards, pop it into your nostril and point it towards the ear.

0:52 Hold this nostril gently and then just do a gentle push of the spray

0:58 And then just slightly breathe it in.

1:01 It needs to work on the nasal lining there.

1:04 And then you do the same thing with the other side - so you tilt your head down, pop it in so it's pointing to the other ear.

1:13 Cover this nostril very slightly, and spray.

1:19 And then just breathe in gently.

Using a nasal spray: 

  1. Clear your nose by blowing into a tissue.
  2. Put your chin to your chest.
  3. Hold the spray in your right hand for spraying into your left nostril and put the nasal spray into your nostril – make sure it's pointing to the side of your nose, towards your ear
  4. Spray the nasal spray while breathing in slowly through your nose. But DO NOT sniff when you breathe in as this will take the spray into your throat and you'll swallow it, rather than keep it in your nose.

Eye drops

Eye drops are the quickest and most efficient way to soothe itchy, runny eyes. Some steroid nasal sprays do this job too, so check whether you need both.

Tried and tested tips you can try at home to manage hay fever

  • Help clean out your nose with a saline wash from the chemist – also called nasal douching. It’ll make you more comfortable and it’ll help nasal sprays work better if you douche first.
  • Put petroleum jelly round your nose to trap pollen before it gets into your lungs.
  • Change your clothes and have a shower when you come home – pollen can get caught in clothing and hair.
  • Pollen drifts downwards as the air cools at night, so try keep your windows shut if your symptoms are keeping you awake. 

If your hay fever isn’t improving, see your GP

Your hay fever needs to be under control to stop it triggering your asthma symptoms or even an asthma attack. So, if your symptoms don’t go away with the usual treatments, or you are noticing your asthma symptoms getting worse, see your GP.

They may recommend one of these treatment options:

Montelukast to help with asthma and hay fever

Montelukast tablets can be taken alongside your inhalers, they can help both asthma and hay fever. They’re a medicine type called Leukotriene Receptor Antagonists (LTRAs) and they’re sometimes prescribed to people with asthma anyway.

Seeing an allergy specialist

A specialist will probably test your allergies to understand the specific triggers and might recommend immunotherapy – see the NHS website for more information.

If you get severe asthma symptoms triggered by allergies, and you can't manage your symptoms well with inhaled steroids or steroid tablets, the specialist may suggest injections of a new type of drug called monoclonal antibodies (sometimes called ‘MABS’) as an option.

Would you like to talk to an asthma nurse about your hay fever? 

Last reviewed April 2019

Next review due April 2022