How to fight back against hay fever this spring

A woman sneezing. There is a large pink flower bush in the background

Nicola Dowse

Posted September 07, 2022

Hay fever is a common complaint in spring, although it can affect sufferers year-round. As the flowers begin to bloom and the dust dries, here’s how to cope with the annoying allergy. 

Feeling sniffly? The onset of spring means warmer weather, longer days, blooming gardens and (for many), the return of hay fever. 

According to the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA), hay fever affects approximately 18 per cent of adults in Australia and New Zealand. 

While there’s no stopping the changing of the seasons, there are ways you can mitigate the impact hay fever has on your life. 

What is hay fever?

Hay fever is the common term for allergic rhinitis, a condition where you have an allergic reaction to an otherwise generally harmless environmental allergen.  

Spring is often thought of as ‘hay fever season’ due to the increased pollen in the air, which is a common trigger allergen in many people. 

However, hay fever is also caused by dust mites, animal dander and mould. This means it’s possible to experience hay fever year-round, not just in spring.   

The symptoms of hay fever can be similar to those of viruses such as the common cold as well as COVID-19. 

Unlike viruses though, hay fever is not contagious – you can’t spread it to other people (though it can pass down genetically through families). 

ASCIA notes that symptoms of hay fever include:

  • A runny or blocked nose 

  • Sneezing

  • Watering eyes 

  • Itchy nose or eyes

Despite being known as ‘hay fever’, allergic rhinitis does not cause fever, nor does it really have anything to do with hay. The name is believed to have stemmed from an 1819 paper from London doctor John Bostock who thought the condition was caused by the odour of fresh hay. 

Unlike viruses, the symptoms of hay fever are unlikely to resolve by themselves without treatment.


A bee gathering pollen from a yellow flower in a lawn

The increase of pollen during spring often worsens hay fever symptoms. Photo: Getty

Hay fever prevention

The key to preventing hay fever is reducing your contact with the allergens behind it.  

ASCIA recommends first going to your doctor to determine the cause of your hay fever, to make sure you’re tackling the correct allergen.

Common hay fever-causing allergens include: 


You can’t exactly remove pollen from the world, especially during spring. But you can minimise your interaction with it. 

ASCIA recommends limiting time outdoors where possible during pollen season (generally September through December, but can vary by location), especially on windy days or after thunderstorms. 

You can also track daily pollen levels using tools like Melbourne Pollen, run by the University of Melbourne’s School of BioSciences. 

If you can’t avoid the great outdoors, try avoiding activities such as lawn mowing or shower after being exposed to pollen. Wearing sunglasses (to reduce pollen in the eyes) and using recycled air in your vehicle can also help.


Mould doesn’t just look unsightly, it’s hazardous to your health too. Remove visible mould then prevent it from coming back by keeping your house well ventilated, especially in rooms where mould tends to thrive (like bathrooms and laundries). 

Sealing your house properly and clearing gutters can also remove the ability for mould to thrive. 

House plants are also a sometimes overlooked culprit of mould and mould allergies; make sure yours aren’t cultivating mould in the pot and be wary around compost and mulch.

Dust mites 

The less dust in your home, the fewer dust mites you’ll have. 

Vacuum and dust surfaces weekly using a damp or electrostatic cloth, though ASCIA notes that vacuuming can temporarily increase the amount of dust mites in the air. 

When buying new products for your home, think about how easily they collect dust and opt for those which can easily have dust removed from them. If renovating, think about ways you can further reduce dust collecting in your home – for example, opting for hardwood floors instead of carpet. 

If nothing else, make sure you eliminate dust in your bedroom. Vacuum and dust weekly but also be sure to hot wash bedding and opt for dust-mite resistant bedding covers if possible. 

Pet dander

It’s not the fur of cats and dogs that can cause people to start sniffling – it’s the sweat and saliva.  

These excretions mix with pet hair and can become airborne. In the case of cats, the pet dander allergen can even remain in a location for some time after the animal has left. 

Sadly, the best way to combat allergic rhinitis caused by pet dander is to rehome the pet. For many people, that’s not an option (nor should it be), so reducing where the pet can be within the house (in particular, preventing them from going into the bedroom) can help. 

Some breeds of cats and dog are less allergenic though ASCIA regards none as truly hypoallergenic. 


A golden retriever resting playfully against someone's feet in their home

Limiting where your pet can go inside your home can help alleviate hay fever symptoms. Photo: Getty

Hay fever remedies 

Speak with your doctor about any symptoms before seeking out treatment for hay fever. If hay fever is suspected, common medications prescribed include: 


Histamines are naturally occurring chemicals your immune system produces when it detects something harmful, or something it mistakenly thinks is harmful (which is what happens with allergies, including hay fever). 

Antihistamines counteract the effects of histamines in the body and can relieve common hay fever symptoms like runny noses and itchy eyes. They’re available tablets, syrup, nasal spray, or eye drops to be taken when symptoms arise. 

Intranasal corticosteroid nasal sprays 

Otherwise known as INCS, these work by reducing inflammation but must be used regularly and correctly to work properly. These sprays are effective, but generally reserved for moderate to severe hay fever sufferers 

You can also get sprays that contain both intranasal corticosteroids and antihistamines. 


A decongestant helps dry and unblock runny noses. They’re available as either nasal sprays or as tablets, but cannot be used long term due to side effects. Decongestants also aren’t suitable for everyone, so discuss these with a doctor or pharmacist prior to use.  

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