What are seasonal allergies?

Bupa Logo at the reception
Consultant in allergy, Cromwell Hospital
20 June 2024
Next review due June 2027

Many people have allergy symptoms at the same time each year. But what are seasonal allergies? And how can you figure out what’s causing your symptoms? Here, I’ll explain everything you need to know about seasonal allergies, including how to treat them.

A person blowing their nose, lying on the sofa

Types of seasonal allergy

When we refer to seasonal allergies, we are usually talking about a form of allergic rhinitis, such as hay fever. Seasonal allergic rhinitis is a pollen allergy, which causes symptoms at specific times of year. These become more severe when the pollen count for your specific pollen trigger is highest.

It’s also possible to have perennial allergic rhinitis. This occurs year-round because of allergy to perennial indoor or outdoor allergens. These include house dust mites, mould (fungal spores) or animal fur.

There are different types of seasonal allergic rhinitis, including:

  • grass pollen allergy
  • tree pollen allergy
  • weed pollen allergy

A doctor can do a skin test to find out which types of pollen you are reacting to. This involves applying different types of pollen, such as silver birch, or ragweed pollen, to your skin and looking for a reaction.

What causes seasonal allergies

Hay fever happens when your immune system mistakenly thinks pollen is a threat. It doesn’t react the first time you meet pollen. But, because your body thinks it’s dangerous, it creates proteins called antibodies.

This means the next time your body is exposed to pollen the antibodies will launch an inflammatory (allergic) response. This leads to the release of histamine and other chemicals that produce the typical hay fever symptoms, including:

  • itchy eyes and nose
  • sneezing
  • blocked, and/or runny nose
  • itchy roof of the mouth (palate)

When do seasonal allergies occur?

Hay fever season in the UK can start as early as late February/ beginning of March. You may notice symptoms around this time if you are allergic to tree pollen. This is at its highest until the middle of May.

But most people with hay fever are allergic to grass pollen. Grass pollen becomes problematic for allergy sufferers from the middle of May until July.

The Met office says that grass pollen is at its highest during the first two weeks of June, and July. So, you may want to take extra steps to protect yourself during this time.

If you find you’re still sneezing in September, you could be allergic to weed pollen. This can last from the end of June to September or even October, depending on the weather.

How to treat seasonal allergies

With seasonal allergies, it’s useful to first protect yourself against the allergens. This should reduce the severity of your symptoms. To help prevent hay fever symptoms:

  • wear wraparound sunglasses to prevent pollen entering your eyes
  • use Vaseline or another barrier cream in your nostrils to block pollen
  • wash your hair and clothes after being outside
  • keep windows closed when the pollen count is high
  • check the pollen forecast and reducing time spent outside during peak pollen times

It can be hard to completely avoid pollen, even with these steps. So, it’s a good idea to have some treatment options available too. Many people use antihistamines to help with seasonal allergies. These can be bought over the counter, or a doctor can prescribe a stronger dose.

Other people need a combination of nasal steroid sprays, eye drops and antihistamines to control their symptoms. If you have particularly severe symptoms, that are not responding to the treatments above, you could ask a doctor about immunotherapy.

Immunotherapy is designed to desensitise, or make you tolerant, to the pollen. This means you would have less symptoms during the pollen season. It needs to be done safely and slowly by a medical professional.

You can’t predict when you might want to see a GP, but you can be ready for when you do. Our GP subscriptions are available to anyone over 18 and give you peace of mind, with 15-minute appointments when it suits you at no extra cost.

Bupa Logo at the reception
Dr Florentina Dumitru
Consultant in allergy, Cromwell Hospital



Julia Ebbens, Health Content Editor at Bupa UK

    • Hay fever and allergic rhinitis. Allergy UK., accessed 17 June 2024
    • When is hay fever season in the UK? The Met Office., accessed 17 June 2024
    • Pollen allergies. The Met Office., accessed 17 June 2024
    • Hay fever symptoms and treatment. American college of allergy, asthma, and immunotherapy
    • Skin allergy tests. NHS., accessed 17 June 2024
    • Allergy. British society for immunology., accessed 17 June 2024
    • Hay fever. The Met Office., accessed 17 June 2024
    • Surviving hay fever: a guide for sufferers. The Met Office., accessed 17 June 2024
    • Immunotherapy. Allergy UK., accessed 17 June 2024

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