As the warmer weather arrives, so do seasonal irritants. Here’s our guide to what they are, why they’re on the rise & how to find relief

What are summer allergies? 

We might long for the warmer months, but there’s a flip side to this typically carefree time of year: summer allergies. For many of us, the big issue summer brings is seasonal allergic rhinitis, the pollen allergy commonly known as hay fever, which affects 10-15% of children and over a quarter of adults in the UK.

Strangely, it can surface at any age, with some getting it for the first time as an adult. ‘Why you suffer from hay fever depends on a number of factors – the pollen count at the time, your exposure to it, and what threshold of pollen in the air triggers an individual’s symptoms,’ explains Amena Warner, head of Clinical Services at Allergy UK. ‘People tend to have a tolerance threshold and may only realise they’ve an allergy when there’s a very high pollen count.’ 

Hay fever is triggered predominantly by grass pollen, although people are also affected by tree and weed pollen, and fungal spores, at different times over spring and summer. People can also have a reaction to one type and not the other. ‘In the UK, we have lots of grass. A rainy spell followed by a breezy, sunny day are perfect pollinating conditions,’ explains Amena. ‘We breathe the pollen in through our nose, where it can irritate the lining and our body immediately wants to expel it, through sneezing or making our nose runny to wash it out. Our eyes and nose also release histamine in response to the pollen as a protective measure. Histamine is what makes our eyes and nose itchy.’ 

Ultimately, hay fever is simply our body misfiring, according to Adam Fox, professor of paediatric allergy and consultant at Evelina London Children’s Hospital. ‘It’s an inappropriate immune response to something that should be ignored,’ he says. ‘Why some people get it and others don’t is partly down to genes; your parents pass down an allergic tendency, then what you become allergic to depends on your level of exposure and the environment.’  

A rise in allergies 

While the first wave of allergic disease occurred some 60 years ago with a surge in hay fever and allergic asthma, there is some evidence allergies are now on the rise. ‘There’s a school of thought that climate change has led to more pollen, or the combination of poor air quality and grass pollen has exacerbated the problem,’ says Professor Fox. 

Amena believes urbanisation may be to blame. ‘Pollen is almost indestructible unless it’s wet and while the dew on grass can dissolve it, our urban concrete surfaces won’t unless it rains and so it sticks to our shoes, falls on to our clothes and hangs on our hair,’ she explains. 

While it’s too early to say what impact Covid-19 has had on allergies and our immune systems, the times we had to isolate do seem to have had an impact, anecdotally at least – especially on babies. ‘When a baby is born, their immune system is rapidly evolving but in lockdown, newborns were kept away from other people and didn’t get the immunological recognition of being out in the environment. So, we’re hearing stories anecdotally of them “picking up” allergies when going into nurseries,’ says Amena.  

Relieving symptoms 

Swollen, watery eyes, sneezing and a runny nose are common hay fever symptoms. The key to stopping them in their tracks? Amena has these tips for high-pollen count days:

• Have a shower, wash your hair and change your clothes when you arrive home

• Keep windows closed, especially in the early mornings when pollen is being released

• Avoid mowing lawns or raking leaves

• Wipe pets down with a damp cloth after walks to remove pollens

• Avoid drying clothes outside 

As for treatments, Professor Fox suggests taking one non-sedating antihistamine tablet a day, if suitable for you. You can also speak to your local Boots pharmacy team about the different products available to help treat hay fever symptoms, including nasal sprays and eye drops. If hay fever continues to hamper your quality of life, Boots Online Doctor can offer advice and access to hay fever treatments if appropriate. 

In severe cases, your GP may recommend other add-on medications or immunotherapy. This is a long-term treatment to help build a tolerance towards pollen.

HayMax Pure Organic Drug-Free Allergen Barrier Balm, £7.49 (5ml)

This balm helps trap a third of pollen before it gets in your nose, helping to reduce symptoms.

Boots One-a-day Hayfever & Allergy Relief 10mg Tablets, £2.99 

Contains loratadine to help relieve itchy eyes, runny noses and sneezes. Always read the label.

Boots Pharmaceuticals Bite & Sting Relief Hydrocortisone Cream, £3.89 (10g)

Helps relieve itching. Contains hydrocortisone. Always read the label.

Fusion Allergy Cooling Mask, £8.99

Pop this reusable cooling mask on to puffy eyes to help soothe and relieve itching.

Sterimar Isotonic Nasal Hygiene Spray, £7.99 (100ml)

The micro-diffused sea water can help prevent pollen sticking.

Optrex Soothing Eye Drops for Itchy Eyes, £5 (10ml)

These eye drops can help soothe and relieve irritation caused by pollen.

Summer allergy calendar


Tree pollen season is in full swing, with birch, ash and oak at their pollen-releasing peak.  


Now is typically the beginning of grass pollen season, along with dock and oil seed rape. 


Oil seed rape season comes to an end, while grass pollen continues its peak. Mugwort pollen season also starts.


Grass and nettle pollens peak now. Grass pollen is the most common trigger of hay fever, so check the pollen count regularly. 


Mugwort pollen tends to peak in the first week of August, with the grass pollen season tapering off now. There can be an increase in mould spores as a result of harvesting.

Don’t forget the wasps and bees 

Stings and bites 

Bees, wasps and mosquitoes are an additional summer menace, though allergic reactions to a sting or bite are normally mild. ‘When people get stung, the body reacts to the venom by sending inflammatory mediators, such as histamine, to the area to shut it down, which makes the sting area itchy, swollen and painful. 

In most cases, it shouldn’t develop any further than that,’ explains Amena. ‘However, there are a small percentage of people who will have allergic antibodies to a sting and an anaphylactic reaction that needs to be treated with adrenaline.’  


Antihistamine creams and a cold compress should work well on the affected area. Visit a Boots pharmacist for further advice on treating mild stings or bites. If symptoms don’t improve after a few days or if the bite/sting is near the eye or in the mouth or throat, you should see a GP. Dizziness, swelling of the airways, a rapid pulse and cramps after a sting could signal a rare, but more severe, reaction, according to Anaphylaxis UK. This can require an urgent injection of adrenaline, so in an emergency dial 999.

Treatments supplied by Boots Online Doctor are subject to a consultation with a clinician to check suitability. Charges apply.