Article updated March 2020
Allergy misdiagnosis is common in the UK, so it’s time to clear things up
Around one in four people in the UK
now suffer from seasonal allergic rhinitis, also known hay fever. This equates to 16 million people,
compared to just one in eight during the 1980s. Indeed, according to experts from Allergy UK[i], this number may reach 30 million by the year 2030. In particular, it seems that
there has been an explosion in the number of children and middle-aged people suffering from the condition.
However, despite its common nature, detailed information about the condition remains hard to find.
Is Hay Fever Often Misdiagnosed?
Professor of the Royal Brompton allergy clinic in London[ii], Stephen Durham, says:
“Family members, GPs, even patients themselves can dismiss hay fever as just a bit of sneezing, but for
about 10% of sufferers it causes abject misery.”
Misdiagnosis is also common when it comes to hay fever, says Dr Adrian Morris of the Surrey Allergy
Clinic: “Many go to the GP complaining of sinus problems and end up on antibiotics when they really have
hay fever and need antihistamines and nasal spray.”
However, Durham points out that the reverse is also true, saying that there are also many people convinced
that they have hay fever when in fact they are suffering from a different allergy.
How To Know When Allergies Are To Blame
Often, it becomes easier to determine what kind of allergy you are suffering from once you determine the
time of year that your allergy peaks. Of course, the question might not be “Do I have hay fever” at all if
there are other potential triggers for your allergy. But here are some of the most common sources of
allergic reactions that can be defined as hay fever or display similar symptoms to hay fever:
Grass: Grass pollen is undoubtedly the most common and well-known of hay fever triggers.
The typical pollen season lasts from the first week of May to the second week of September, with a peak
from the first week in June to the last week in July.
Birch: Around 25% of allergy sufferers have an allergy to birch trees. This birch season is earlier
than the pollen season, lasting from mid-March to the first week in June and peaking from late March to
Mould: These allergies are the result of various common kinds of mould, such as
Cladosporium and Alternaria. Mould allergies usually flare-up in early autumn and late spring,
particularly after a rain shower when the mould spores attach to water molecules in the air.
Oak: Oak allergies are usually mild, though can be more severe in some cases. The allergy
season lasts from the first week of April to mid-June and peaks from the end of April to early June.
Nettle: Everyone remembers nettles for their painful stinging potential, but they can
also be a source of a mild allergic reaction. The season lasts from the beginning of May to the end of
September and peaks from the end of June to the beginning of August.
Oilseed rape: Like grass, oilseed rape allergies come about as a result of airborne
pollen. This allergy season for oilseed rape is earlier than that of grass pollen allergies, lasting from
the end of March to mid-June. It peaks from mid-May to the end of June.
Pets: Unlike the other allergies listed, pet allergies are not dependant on the time of
year. Cat allergies and dog allergies are the most prevalent causes of allergies in the UK, simply due to
the proximity of these animals to us in our daily lives. As our pets shed hair and skin cells, these
materials make their way into the air, carpets, bedding and furniture – providing a significant risk to
those whose immune system is particularly responsive to these particles. Horse allergies are also not
uncommon for those who come into contact with these animals.
Dust and dust mites: Dust is a common culprit for allergy sufferers whose symptoms flare
up in colder months, although symptoms can be present all year. Dust allergies tend to be worse indoors in
winter due to central heating. While dust mites are a very different source of irritation to pollens, the
symptoms of the human body’s allergic reaction can be very similar.
Dust mites are close relatives to ticks and spiders but are too small to see without the aid of a
microscope. When dust mites are released into the atmosphere they may trigger inflammation of the nasal
passageways, leading to the same type of sneezing and runny nose found in hay fever sufferers. Indeed,
those who are susceptible to hay fever may also be inclined towards a similar reaction to dust and dust
mites in the air.
Tell Me More About Hay Fever Symptoms
Given the wide range of pollens and particles in the air throughout the year, it is not surprising that
many people find that they suffer from year-round hay fever – with allergies that can become particularly
debilitating if left untreated.
In addition to the tree pollens referenced above, it is also possible to experience hay fever symptoms
Which Hay Fever Tablets Are Right For You?
If you do determine that hay fever is responsible for your allergies, there are several treatment options
for you to consider.
This is a popular unbranded hay fever medication which is medically equivalent to branded options but is
more cost-effective. It acts as an effective non-drowsy antihistamine by preventing the release of
chemicals which cause hay fever symptoms.
This is another popular unbranded medication for allergy relief, this time in the form of a nasal spray.
It can help tackle symptoms like itchy eyes, sneezing and congestion.
Telfast is the branded equivalent of fexofenadine, acting in exactly the same way to tackle hay fever
Again, Nasonex is the branded equivalent of mometasone. It works to treat seasonal hay fever and
year-round allergic rhinitis.
Each of these treatments can be prescribed by Express Pharmacy, depending on symptoms and your individual
I've Tried Hay Fever Medication - It Doesn't Work
In the rare where medication is not proving to be effective, it can be beneficial to request an allergy
test. Allergy tests can take two forms and can be requested with an immunologist through your GP. They
Allergy skin prick test – small amounts of allergen extracts are applied to the skin
surface in order to ascertain, whether the body has an allergic reaction. This test can be applied to not
only pollen but also dust mites and animal hairs. Skin tests are also commonly used to diagnose nut
Allergy blood test – by taking a small sample of blood from a vein in the arm, it is
possible to test for the Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibody – the defence mechanism produced when pollen is
Why are more people suffering from hay fever?
It is not known precisely why more people are suffering from hay fever today than were 30 or 40 years ago.
However, it is thought that there could be a few contributing factors. One view is that the increasingly
hygienic and sanitised world that we now live in tends to expose us to fewer threats to our immune system
than would have been the case in previous generations. Anecdotally it appears that more people are
suffering from hay fever onset in mid-life than ever before. And this has been attributed by some experts
to people enjoying a cleaner environment in later life resulting in a sensitised response to pollen in
Another factor which is thought to have contributed to the rise in hay fever sufferers is the documented
increase on pollen count around the UK. While it may appear that cities are less likely to feature high
pollen counts, traffic fumes have been found to help spread pollen and ensure that it is hard for city
workers to escape the effects of hay fever.
Article updated March 2020