Most of us know about itchy, red or runny eyes or a bunged up nose being symptoms of hay fever, but is it possible for hay fever to also bring people out in a rash too?
Yes, some people can experience a hay fever rash.
In this article, we explain more about this hay fever symptom that doesn’t tend to be as widely known about as some of the other symptoms of hay fever.
What is hay fever?
It’s an allergic reaction to pollen. Hay fever is a seasonal allergy, which lasts for days, weeks or months. It’s also referred to as allergic rhinitis.1
In the UK, hay fever tends to flare up for hay fever sufferers between the months of March and September, especially if the weather’s warm, humid and windy.
Warmer temperatures can encourage increased pollen production and pollination and, of course, the pollen can be blown around in the wind.
More common symptoms of hay fever include:
- Sneezing and coughing
- A runny or blocked nose
- Itchy, red or watery eyes
- Itchy throat, mouth, nose and ears
- Loss of smell
- Pain around your temples and forehead
- Feeling tired
Unfortunately, there's currently no cure for hay fever and there’s no way you can prevent it either. However, many people find their symptoms do improve as they get older.
Around half of people report some improvement in their symptoms after several years of having hay fever.
It’s even possible for people’s symptoms to completely disappear – this applies to around 10 to 20% of hay fever sufferers.2
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What causes hay fever?
Pollen from plants is the main culprit.
People tend to get hay fever when they get pollen, a fine powder from plants (grass, weeds, flowers), in their mouth, nose, eyes and throat.3 4
People who get hay fever are allergic to pollen.
Pollen, the yellow dust that’s released by plants as part of their reproductive cycle, contains proteins that can cause people’s nose, eyes, throat and sinuses to become swollen, irritated and inflamed.
When they inhale pollen, it triggers the mast cells in their body to release a chemical called histamine into their bloodstream, which aims to protect the body from the pollen.
This is why it’s so common for hay fever sufferers to experience sneezing fits, watery eyes or a runny nose, because their body is trying to get rid of the pollen from the body.
- Hay fever is a seasonal allergy, which lasts for days, weeks or months
- It’s also referred to as allergic rhinitis
- People who get hay fever are allergic to pollen from plants (grass, weeds, flowers)
Can hay fever cause a skin rash?
Yes, it can.
Hay fever rashes, which are also called pollen rashes, develop when the body mounts an immune response to otherwise harmless substances in the air, such as pollen from blooming trees, weeds, grasses, and also dust and pet dander.5
Just like all of the other hay fever symptoms, when hay fever sufferers inhale these allergens, histamine gets released into their blood and they experience symptoms, such as sneezing etc.
But it’s actually possible for histamine to be released into the dermis, the lower layer of skin too.
When this happens, it brings the skin out in an allergic reaction – a hay fever rash – that can be red, inflamed and itchy.
Skin rashes aren’t a common symptom of having hay fever.
Some people are more prone to developing a rash than others. Meanwhile, some people may get them more frequently than others. It’s also possible to have a hay fever rash without actually having a rash, just skin that feels itchy.
What does hay fever rash look like?
Hay fever rashes don’t look the same on everybody.
This is because of the different way in which people’s bodies react to allergens and the fact the type of rash they develop can be slight, moderate or severe.6
Hives, or urticaria, are red bumps or welts that appear on the body.
If these bumps and welts last for less than six weeks, then you have acute urticaria.
If you have them for longer than six weeks, then it’s classed as being acute urticaria. Acute urticaria is most commonly linked to allergen exposure or infections. While the cause of chronic urticaria is not fully known.
Unlike hay fever rash and allergic contact dermatitis, eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is a chronic skin condition.8
People with eczema are much more likely to also have hay fever and asthma.
It's part of what’s called the ‘atopic triad’, which is a group of allergic/hypersensitivity conditions that commonly appear together.
Hay fever can also trigger eczema flare-ups.
Many people with eczema find their skin conditions get worse during the prime hay fever seasons of spring, summer and early autumn.
However, hay fever does not cause eczema, or vice versa. Hay fever can, however, potentially make the symptoms of eczema worse.
Eczema can be red, itchy and painful, making skin look and feels dry and scaly.
It tends to develop on the face, inner elbows, behind the knees and on people’s hands and feet, rather than on areas of skin that have come into contact with an allergen.
- Skin rashes aren’t a common symptom of having hay fever
- Hives are the main form of hay fever rash
- It’s possible to have a hay fever rash and only develop itchy skin
How long does a hay fever rash last?
There is no set time for when hay fever rashes disappear.
It all depends on how severe they are and what the rash has been triggered by.
For instance, it may have developed because you’ve come into contact with one or more allergens or it’s been triggered by your eczema, or a combination of the two.
How to treat hay fever rash
There are various different treatments for hay fever rash, which can also help ease the more common symptoms of hay fever too. They include:9
Antihistamines, such as fexofenadine and diphenhydramine, help relieve itching and are a common treatment for hives.
They are typically used to treat hives, and may not be as effective at helping clear other rashes.
Cold compresses, calamine lotion and colloidal oatmeal baths
All of these remedies have the ability to cool and calm irritated and itchy skin, regardless of what may be triggering it.
Colloidal oatmeal baths reportedly have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties due to the presence of soothing compounds, such as Vitamin E, ferulic acid, and avenanthramides.
Studies have shown that oatmeal has both barrier repair and moisturising properties.10
Topical steroid creams
These creams, which include over-the-counter products, such as hydrocortisone, desonide and clobetasol, are commonly used to treat eczema and allergic contact dermatitis.
All topical steroids should be used with particular care if you are using them on your face.
They should never be applied to the delicate skin around your eyes.
If applied several times per day, certain moisturising creams can help ease dry skin and reduce itching.
Moisturisers that contain emollient ingredients, such as petrolatum, mineral oil, squalene and dimethicone, help hydrate skin, as well as lock in moisture for longer.
If you know what it is that you are allergic to, and it’s something that can be avoided, this could significantly reduce your hay fever symptoms.
Other avoidance tactics include, changing your clothes as soon as you get in from being outside, closing your doors and windows and avoiding venturing outside when the pollen count is particularly high.
Tends to be used by people who have severe allergies and can potentially reduce symptoms or possibly cure hay fever over time.
The treatment involves exposing you to small amounts of your triggering allergen (either as an oral pill or an injection).
Eventually, you will become desensitised to the allergen and your body will no longer produce the same reaction when it comes into contact with it.
If you believe you have a hay fever rash, speak to your GP or medical professional. They will be able to advise you on the best treatment, based on your symptoms.
- Like hay fever, hives can last for days, weeks or months
- There are various different treatments for hay fever rash
- They include antihistamines, topical steroid creams and allergen avoidance
Hay fever can make people experience different symptoms, some common, and some not so common, such as hay fever or pollen rash.
Depending on how long you’ve had hay fever for and what your symptoms are like, you may be able to determine if your rash is linked to your hay fever.
It may even be possible for you to develop a hay fever rash when you’ve never had one before or to develop a pollen rash, but without the rash, just the itchiness.
If you develop a rash that you are concerned about, speak to your GP straight away about it.
They will be able to determine the cause and advise you on the best course of action to take to help treat it.
For more advice on how to combat hayfever, have a read of this guide to hayfever remedies and relief.
Last updated: 12 May 2022