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Hay fever myths debunked

Whether you always get itchy eyes in the summer or you have a long-suffering friend who’s constantly checking pollen counts, hay fever is one of the most common allergies in the world with 1 in 5 being affected at some point in their life.

However, despite it being such a common condition, there are several myths around hay fever that can lead to confusion when you’re trying to find the right relief or treatment.

In this article, we will debunk 5 hay fever myths, answering such questions as: when does hay fever start developing? Is hay fever contagious? And is honey good for hay fever?

Let’s jump right in.

1. MYTH: Hay fever is contagious

With cold-like symptoms, such as a runny nose and sore throat, it stands to reason to ask whether hay fever is contagious, too. But don’t worry, your constant sneezing won’t make your friends and family develop hay fever.

Hay fever is an allergy that only certain people are susceptible to and is not contagious, which means it cannot be transferred from person to person. Instead, hay fever starts due to environmental factors, such as pollution, hormonal or immune system changes.

However, it’s important to differentiate between hay fever and a common cold (it also shares some symptoms with the flu). After all, if hay fever does give you a sore throat, is it because of pollen or a viral infection?

2. MYTH: I cannot take hay fever tablets when pregnant

An uncomfortable combination of itchy eyes, a sore throat, and a runny nose are some of the last things you want to when pregnant. However, many people believe they cannot take hay fever tablets when pregnant or whilst breast feeding, to relieve their symptoms. 

While not all treatments are suitable, you can still find safe hay fever relief when pregnant and/or breast feeding with the following:

  • Nasal sprays
  • Eye drops
  • Non-drowsy antihistamine tablets
  • Petroleum jelly applied around the nostrils to catch pollen

Bear in mind, if you’re looking to take hay fever tablets when pregnant and/or breastfeeding, we’d always recommend chatting to your primary care clinician, pharmacist, or midwife first. There are only certain antihistamine tablets that are safe to take and you can get advice on the safest course of treatment depending on the severity of your symptoms, as well as which trimester you’re in. If the benefits of treatment are thought to outweigh any possible risks, the antihistamine you'd be advised to take is usually Loratadine.

For more information on how to handle the symptoms of hay fever, take a look at hay fever survival guide provided by Benenden Hospital.

3. MYTH: Hay fever only develops in childhood

While the symptoms of this allergic reaction typically crop up during childhood, there’s no age limit on when hay fever starts in your life. You could be five or 35 years old and suddenly become hyper sensitive to a high pollen count.

So, how does hay fever work? And why do so many people have hay fever later in life?

Well, it’s all about your immune system, which is always changing and evolving as you get older. Over time, your immune system can be impacted by environmental factors, illnesses, or hormonal changes, such as those during pregnancy. Your body might also have a delayed allergic reaction to pollen that only manifests later in life.

The science behind when hay fever starts is a bit hazy, but we think it's down to a combination of genetics, environmental factors and exposure to allergens. With the allergy triggers being hard to predict, but it’s important to react quickly to soften those uncomfortable symptoms if they do flare up. Try to keep a diary of symptoms and potential triggers, this way you can mitigate the risk of those uncomfortable symptoms if they do flare up you can do the following:

  • Speak to your primary care clinician about suitable treatments
  • Go to the chemist for over-the-counter relief
  • Avoid spending time outdoors
  • Keep windows shut during the day

4. MYTH: Hay fever only occurs during the day

Hay fever might be synonymous with sunny summer days, but that does not mean the symptoms stop when the sun goes down. In fact, it could be that your hay fever is worse at night than it is during the day.

For starters, between a sniffly nose and scratchy throat, symptoms always feel so much more severe when they’re stopping you from getting a decent night’s sleep. If you left your bedroom window open during the day, then pollen could also drift in only to be trapped in your room when you shut the windows at night. Pollen can stick to your hair and clothes, too, continuing to aggravate your allergies when you’re indoors.

If your hay fever is worse at night, we recommend keeping your windows shut throughout the day when pollen counts are at their highest. You should also shower before bed and change clothes to ensure any clingy pollen is washed away, and you can get a good night’s sleep.

5. MYTH: Honey can cure hay fever

While many people might swear by a spoonful of honey and its hay fever fighting capabilities, there’s no scientific evidence of its effectiveness.

The common misconception is that honey is good for hay fever because it’s similar to micro-dosing pollen into your immune system. Over time, your body would be less sensitive to pollen as a result. However, the pollen in store-bought honey is minimal, and there have been no studies to prove the method to be effective. The same goes for locally-produced honey, there just is not enough allergen-inducing pollen to slowly build up a resistance.

That’s not to say honey is not good for hay fever in other ways. Much like as a cold or flu remedy, honey can help soothe a sore throat from your hay fever, slightly softening the symptoms. Manuka honey is a particular popular choice for soothing sore throats, with its anti-inflammatory properties offering some much needed relief in the spring and summer months.  

Perhaps you’re looking for potential remedies for your hay fever symptoms? Maybe you’re interested in some general healthy lifestyle and wellbeing advice? Benenden Health is always there to offer support and advice. Head over to our Be Healthy hub to read our health articles or sign up to our regular e-newsletter and get wellbeing content sent directly to you!

Medically reviewed in April 2024.