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What are hay fever tablets?

Hay fever

Hay fever is a very common allergy, experienced by about 20% of people in the UK at some point in their lives. While there is no cure, symptoms can often be alleviated by taking over-the-counter hay fever tablets, nasal sprays, or prescription-only tablets such as Telfast.

What is hay fever?

Hay fever is caused by an allergy to pollen, which is released by plants such as flowers, trees and grass. People can be allergic to different types of pollen, and symptoms can vary from mild to severe.

Different types of pollen are released at different times of the year, and the highest pollen count usually occurs around the end of June and throughout July.

What are the symptoms of hay fever?

Common symptoms of hay fever include:

 • a runny or blocked nose
 • itchy, watery and red eyes
 • sneezing
 • worsening of asthma symptoms (wheezing and breathlessness)
 • an itchy throat

The severity of your hay fever symptoms may vary from year to year, depending on the weather conditions and the pollen count (the number of grains of pollen in one cubic metre of air). Click here to see the Met Office’s current pollen count throughout the UK.

What are hay fever tablets?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for hay fever, but preventative measures can be taken to limit the extent it affects you. In most cases, over-the-counter medicines can help, while prescription medicines such as Telfast can be effective for those with more severe symptoms.

Over-the-counter hay fever tablets

Many antihistamine tablets are available over the counter for the treatment of hay fever, including cetirizine, fexofenadine and loratadine. You may be more familiar with the brand names that these medicines are sold under, such as Clarityn, Zirtek, Benadryl and Piriteze.

These antihistamine tablets work by altering the way the body reacts to histamine, a chemical released by the body when it thinks it is being attacked by a harmful substance. It is histamine which causes the symptoms of hay fever, such as a runny nose and watery eyes.

Normally, histamine is useful, and helps protect the body against infection. However, when the body mistakes a harmless substance, such as pollen, for a threat, it will produce histamine unnecessarily, and the histamine will in turn cause the unpleasant symptoms. By altering the way histamine affects the cells of your body, antihistamines can prevent the symptoms.

Over-the-counter hay fever tablets can be used as an ‘as-required’ treatment, taken when you start to develop the symptoms of hay fever. They can also be used as a preventative measure, such as on days when you know there is a high pollen count and you are likely to experience symptoms.

Prescription hay fever tablets

If over-the-counter hay fever tablets fail to alleviate your symptoms, prescription treatments may be of more help. Your doctor may prescribe prescription-only antihistamine tablets such as Telfast, or corticosteroid tablets, which provide short-term relief from severe symptoms.

Telfast, and other prescription-only antihistamine tablets, work in the same way as over-the-counter antihistamines, but are stronger and intended to help with more severe symptoms. You can request Telfast through our online service, without having to see a doctor face to face.

Corticosteroids, on the other hand, are anti-inflammatory medicines similar to the natural steroids that your body makes. Corticosteroid tablets should only be taken short-term (a maximum of 10 days), as the risk of side effects, such as weight gain and acne, increase the longer they are taken.

What are other treatments for hay fever?

Nasal sprays may also help with the symptoms of hay fever, particularly sneezing and an itchy or runny nose. Both antihistamines and corticosteroids come in the form of nasal sprays as well as tablets. 

Eye drops and nasal decongestants can also help with hay fever. If you have persistent symptoms, your doctor might recommend immunotherapy treatment.

Simple measures such as wearing wrap-around sunglasses, keeping windows closed, or having a shower and washing your hair after a day out to remove pollen grains trapped on skin and hair, can also help minimise the symptoms of hay fever.