What is hay fever? And how does it affect people?

Last updated at 11:05
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What is Hay fever? - and how does it affect people?

It's officially springtime in the UK, and while that means more warm and sunny weather, it also can mean a hard time for people with hay fever.

You might have seen hay fever being talked about in the news a bit more this year though. That's because doctors are asking people with hay fever not to confuse their symptoms with those of coronavirus.

What is hay fever?

Hay fever is an allergy - people who have it are allergic to pollen.

Pollen is a type of fine powder which is released by lots of different plants and trees.

It has proteins in it which can cause your nose, eyes and throat to become swollen or irritated.

This means people might suffer from symptoms like itchy eyes, or runny noses. This is because your body tries to protect itself by getting rid of the pollen.

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Hay fever is one of the most common allergies in the UK, affecting around 13 million people.

You can get it at any age, although it usually starts when you are young.

Not everyone has hay fever, but is it more common in people whose family members already have it, or other allergies, especially asthma.

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A bee covered in pollen on a flower.

Although there is no cure for hay fever, people who have it can manage the symptoms in lots of different ways.

Special medicine called antihistamines or steroids are sometimes used to help prevent a reaction and reduce the swelling.

Top tips also include avoiding freshly cut grass, changing you clothes if you have been outside, and closing your windows at night-time.

However, it is always best to talk to a doctor about what is right for you, if you think you might have hay fever.

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Different types of plants give out pollen at different times of year.

People can be affected by different types of pollen as well.

For example there is lots of tree pollen in spring, grass pollen in summer and weed pollen in the autumn.

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People with hay fever can also keep an eye on how high the levels of pollen in the air are, by watching special weather reports.

As well as telling the weather, presenters can also give a pollen count, to warn people when the levels are high.

What has coronavirus got to do with hay fever?

Some symptoms are not the same - such as a runny nose - but hay fever can cause a cough (which is a symptom of coronavirus).

This year, the Royal College of General Practitioner, an organisation which represents GPs, has said people with hay fever should think about whether their symptoms are the same as in previous years.

Dr Jonathan Leach, of the RCGP, said: "For most people who have hay fever it is the same symptoms as they have each year.

"What we are finding is that some patients are saying 'look this is a different thing to what I had last year, could this be coronavirus?' and in that case it might be."

It doesn't want people leaving their houses thinking they've got hay fever symptoms when actually they might have Covid-19 and should stay at home.