The worst day of the year for hay fever is here: Why is it so bad at the moment?

Hay fever. (Getty Images)
Brace yourself for a bad bout of hay fever today. (Getty Images)

Prepare for some heavy sneezing, sore eyes and an itchy throat if you haven't already reached for the antihistamine today.

The worst day of the year for hay fever sufferers – coined as 'Hay Day' by Asthma + Lung UK – is upon us.

It's traditionally thought to land on 22 June, when pollen counts are high and weather is warmer.

The Met Office yesterday warned, "We are in the peak of the grass pollen season and levels are very high across the majority of the country today and tomorrow."

Its daily pollen forecast shows much of England, Wales and Northern Ireland will mainly have "very high" or "high levels" for the next couple of days, while Scotland will be hit slightly less, except for Dumfries, Galloway, Lothian and Borders.

Read more: Hay fever remedies that really work (from the sufferers who swear by them)

What causes hay fever and why is it so bad at the moment?

Man with itchy eyes from hay fever. (Getty Images)
The pollen count might be high, but there are measures you can take to ease symptoms. (Getty Images)

Around two in every 10 people have hay fever and roughly more than 10 million people in Britain suffer with it.

"Hay fever is the most common name for pollen allergy and is most commonly caused by grass pollens, although other pollens can also trigger the symptoms," explains the Met Office. "The symptoms are caused when immune system reacts to pollen in the body to produce histamine and other chemicals."

No wonder everyone seems to be sneezing at the moment, as around 95% of people’s hay fever is triggered by grass pollen, which tends to be highest between mid-May and July, according to Asthma + Lung UK.

The weather has a part to play too, as grass and nettle pollen rise substantially in warm and dry weather, which we've seen a lot of recently.

As well as grass pollen being a culprit, you are more likely to suffer from hay fever if you have a family history of allergies, or if you have asthma or eczema. While most people develop hay fever as a child or in their teens, it can be triggered at any age.

That said, the good news is that if you do have the allergy, it's likely you'll grow out of it or suffer from it less as an adult. Though this doesn't seem to be the case for everyone...

Symptoms of hay fever

Man sneezing. (Getty Images)
Be mindful that your symptoms aren't causing any other conditions to get worse. (Getty Images)

The typical symptoms of hay fever, as listed by Asthma + Lung UK, 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 signs of hay fever are similar to symptoms of a cold, but a tell-tale sign is that a cold normally goes away after one or two weeks, while the allergy can last for weeks or even months. As there are also similarities with Covid-19 symptoms, it's important to rule this out too.

Read more: How to spot if a cough is coronavirus or hay fever

If you have asthma you may find that your symptoms get worse and you experience:

  • shortness of breath

  • a tight chest

  • wheezing and coughing

Different types of pollen and how it affects us

Grass pollen. (Getty Images)
Most people's hay fever is triggered by grass pollen. (Getty Images)

"Depending on the time of year, the type of pollen in the air will be different. There are around 30 different types of pollen that cause hay fever and it is possible to be allergic to more than one type," says the Met Office.

It reiterates that most people are allergic to grass pollen, which is common in late spring and early summer, whereas tree pollen tends to be released during spring and affects around 25% of people, and weed pollen can be released at any time from the early spring to the late autumn.

"Hay fever symptoms usually appear when the pollen count, which is a measure of the number of grains of pollen in one cubic metre of air, exceeds 50," it adds.

"The weather conditions affect how much pollen is released and spread around. On humid and windy days, pollen spreads easily but on rainy days, pollen can be cleared from the air. On sunny days, the pollen count is highest in the early evening and that's when you are most likely to suffer from hay fever symptoms."

Treatments and advice for hay fever sufferers

A woman holds a medicinal spray in her hands, a pack of pills and a handkerchief. (Getty Images)
It might be wise to be better prepared for the next hay day... (Getty Images)

While there isn't a magic cure for hay fever, you should be able to relieve your symptoms with treatment.

"The most effective way to prevent hay fever is to avoid exposure to pollen but this is almost impossible, particularly during the summer months," says the Met Office.

"Instead, many people rely on antihistamines, which can prevent the allergic reaction from happening, and corticosteroids, which reduce any inflammation and swelling caused by the pollen allergy.

"Eye drops can also help. Over-the-counter treatments should be sufficient to ease your hay fever symptoms, but if you are experiencing more severe symptoms, you should speak to your GP."

Asthma + Lung UK advises if you do take antihistamines, start taking them up to four weeks before you normally get symptoms, as this means that when pollen is released, the medication has already built up in your bloodstream so you may be less likely to react.

It also recommends a nasal spray, which you should take up two weeks to start working.

Read more: UK weather: What happens to your body when it gets too hot?

Top tips for hay fever sufferers

The NHS also suggests these useful hacks to minimise your symptoms:

  • put Vaseline around your nostrils to trap pollen

  • wear wraparound sunglasses to stop pollen getting into your eyes

  • shower and change your clothes after you have been outside to wash pollen off

  • stay indoors whenever possible

  • keep windows and doors shut as much as possible

  • vacuum regularly and dust with a damp cloth

  • buy a pollen filter for the air vents in your car and a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter

  • try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people if you have a high temperature or you do not feel well enough to do your normal activities

Reduce your risk of hay fever triggering an asthma attack

Asthma + Lung UK suggests:

  1. Carry your reliever inhaler (usually blue) every day. You might also refer to this as your 'rescue inhaler'. This quickly relaxes the muscles in your airways and eases 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. A pharmacist can help give advice and suggest the best treatments for hay fever.

If your hay fever symptoms are particularly bad and aren't improving, or your asthma or lung condition symptoms are getting worse, see a GP urgently. But hopefully those sneezes will stay under control.

For more information visit the Met Office, or Asthma + Lung UK.

Watch: Five ways to stop hay fever ruining your sleep