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Hay fever is the common name for allergic rhinitis. It’s inflammation of the lining of the nose and eyes due to an allergic reaction, usually to seasonally occurring allergens like pollens.

What causes it?

Allergens that cause hay fever include:

  • pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds
  • house dust mites
  • mould spores
  • hair and skin flakes from pets.

There are two types of allergic rhinitis: Seasonal hay fever is caused by airborne pollens, and usually occurs in spring and summer. Perennial rhinitis can occur at any time of the year. It’s usually caused by dust mites and pets.

What are the symptoms of hay fever?

Sneezing, running or blocked nose, and itchy, watery, puffy eyes, and possibly blocked ears. If left untreated, severe hay fever can lead to sinus and eye infections, lack of sleep, and can worsen the symptoms of asthma.

Diagnosing hay fever

Your doctor will confirm the allergens causing your rhinitis by taking a complete symptom history, doing a physical examination, and performing skin-prick tests.

How do I prevent hay fever?

Once you know what you’re allergic to, the best way to prevent hay fever is to avoid the allergens responsible – not always an easy task.

What treatments are available?

Medications to treat and help prevent allergic rhinitis are available from your doctor or over the counter at your pharmacy. Always continue to avoid your allergen whenever possible, even when taking medications. These medications include:

  • antihistamines
  • steroid nasal sprays
  • decongestants (for short-term use)
  • products that combine these medications.

Other medicines are available on prescription. Some are begun before the pollen season, and taken every day. Others can be used for fast relief when symptoms occur. Your doctor can advise you on which option is best for you.


If symptoms continue to be a problem despite avoiding allergens and taking medicine, immunotherapy may help. The goal is to desensitise you to the allergen, and lessen or even eliminate your symptoms.

Find out more about hay fever with Allergy NZ.