Pollen, hay fever and lung conditions

Health advice >  triggers

Allergies to tree, grass or weed pollen cause hay fever, which can affect lung conditions like asthma and COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). Know your pollen triggers and their seasons using our pollen calendar, so you can reduce the risk of your hay fever triggering an asthma attack or a flare up of your lung condition symptoms. 

On this page

Symptoms of hay fever
The different types of pollen
Prepare for pollen season - know your pollen triggers 
Reduce your risk of an asthma attack
When to see your GP
Hay fever, pollution, hot weather and thunderstorms

Symptoms of hay fever

The typical symptoms of hay fever are:

  • a runny or blocked nose and loss of smell
  • sneezing and coughing
  • itchy, red or watery eyes
  • itchy throat, mouth, nose and ears
  • headache or earache
  • feeling tired

Some of the symptoms of hay fever are similar to the symptoms of a cold. However, cold symptoms will normally go away after 1-2 weeks, while hay fever can last for weeks or even months. There are also similarities between the symptoms of hay fever and the symptoms of COVID-19. For more information, you can read our coronavirus advice pages.

If you have asthma and hay fever triggers your symptoms, you could also notice:

  • shortness of breath
  • a tight chest
  • wheezing and coughing.

 If you have asthma hay fever can cause your already inflamed airways to swell up even more. It can also make you more likely to react to other triggers like dust or pollution, and if hay fever combines with viruses like colds or flu, the extra inflammation can make your symptoms even worse.

The different types of pollen

  • Tree pollen is a common hay fever trigger. It’s the first pollen to be released during hay fever season, and levels are typically highest from late March to mid-May.
  • Around 95% of people’s hay fever is triggered by grass pollen, which tends to be highest between mid-May and July. And there’s strong evidence that when grass pollen levels are high, people with asthma are more likely to need hospital treatment.
  • Hay fever can also be triggered by weed pollen, which is highest from the end of June until September.

Prepare for pollen season - know your pollen triggers

You can be allergic to more than one kind of pollen across the year. Different pollens are released at different times, but our changeable weather makes it hard to predict exactly when. If you have hay fever symptoms all year round, you might have non-allergic rhinitis or an allergy to something else.

  • If you regularly get hay fever and take antihistamines, start taking them up to four weeks before you normally get symptoms. Starting them early means that when pollen starts being released, the medication has already built up in your bloodstream so you may be less likely to react.
  • If you usually use a steroid nasal spray, it can take up to two weeks to start working, so again, start using it before your personal pollen trigger is released.

Use our pollen calendar

To work out which pollen sets off your hay fever, note the days and weeks when your symptoms are bad. Use our pollen calendar to see which pollen could be your trigger, and when it’s likely to be released.

 

Pollen calendar

 

 Check the pollen forecast from the Met Office daily through the season if you know you’re triggered.

Find useful tips from the NHS on how to treat yourself with hay fever

See our information on hay fever treatments for more about antihistamines, nasal sprays,  eye drops and other top tips to deal with symptoms of hay fever. This will help you cut your risk of an asthma attack or a flare up of your lung condition symptoms.

Reduce the risk of hay fever triggering an asthma attack

  1. Carry your reliever inhaler (usually blue) every day. You might also refer to this as your rescue inhaler. These quickly relax the muscles in your airways and ease your asthma or COPD symptoms on the spot, so it’s important to carry your reliever inhaler with you.
  2. Take any preventer or maintenance treatments every day, as prescribed. This will help prevent your lungs from reacting to pollen. In asthma, this is even more crucial, as asthma preventer inhalers contain a low dose of steroid, which dampens down the inflammation that can be set off by pollen and other triggers.
  3. Treat hay fever symptoms with antihistamine pills and sprays or a steroid nasal spray. There are lots of different medicine options for hay fever. Your pharmacist can help you decide what to try.

When to see your GP 

If you have hay fever, it’s likely that it’s triggering your asthma or lung condition symptoms if you:

  • feel wheezy
  • feel breathless
  • have a tight feeling in your chest
  • are coughing more than usual
  • have asthma and are needing to use your reliever inhaler (usually blue) three times a week or more.

 If you start treatment quickly, you can get on top of your symptoms and reduce your risk of a potentially life-threatening asthma attack or a COPD exacerbation. Ask your GP for an urgent, same day appointment, or if your GP surgery is closed call 111 for advice.

If you don’t think you have hay fever, but your asthma or lung condition symptoms are getting worse, you should still see your GP urgently.

Hay fever, pollution, hot weather and thunderstorms

Lots of people find their hay fever is worse when there’s high pollution, especially as hot weather makes pollution worse. Pollution molecules stick to pollen grains, so they hang about in the air longer and are harder to get out of your airways.

Thunderstorms can also cause your symptoms to get worse or flare up, because they smash pollen into tiny bits that go deeper into your lungs.

These three steps will reduce your risk of and asthma attack or your lung condition symptoms flaring up from pollen combined with heat, high pollution or thunderstorms:

  • Make sure you carry your reliever inhaler (usually blue). If you have asthma and need to use it three or more times a week, book an urgent GP appointment.
  • Try to stay away from the trigger – take extra care if you’re out and about in the heat, or if the pollen count or the level of pollution is high. You could use a weather app on your phone to get weather and pollen alerts.
  • Take hay fever medicines to help reduce the allergic reaction that could be making your symptoms worse – see our hay fever treatments page.

Read more about looking after your lungs in hot weather.

Last updated April 2022

Next review due March 2023

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