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Hay fever (or allergic rhinitis) affects around 18% of people in Australia.[1] This includes sufferers of seasonal allergies (triggers such as pollen or grass) and perennial allergies (triggers include dust, pet hair and mould). While hay fever symptoms can be mild, some sufferers will experience symptoms that interfere with their daily life. The best thing to do is avoid the allergen trigger. However, this can be almost impossible. So what can you do to help?

Saline Nasal Sprays

Saline nasal sprays and rinses can be bought over the counter from the pharmacy. While the evidence for their effectiveness is not conclusive, allergy sufferers do report an improvement in symptoms with regular use and there are virtually no side effects.[2] Saline nasal sprays can also be useful because they do not cause any interactions with other medications or health conditions.

Oral Antihistamines

Antihistamine tablets can also be purchased from your pharmacist without a prescription. They are the first choice of treatment for mild, intermittent seasonal allergies.[3] There are several non-sedating antihistamines which are available. Sedating antihistamines are rarely recommended as they are more likely to cause adverse side effects and are considered no more effective than the newer non-sedating antihistamines.[4] Your pharmacist can help you find one most suited to you.

Antihistamine Nasal Sprays

Many people may not realise that antihistamines can also be purchased as nasal sprays. They are most useful for mild, intermittent allergies where the main symptoms are nasal.4 They are less useful for eye symptoms (such as itchiness) compared with oral antihistamines but very helpful for fast relief.

Corticosteroid Nasal Sprays

If antihistamines alone do not control symptoms then it is recommended to try an intranasal corticosteroid.[5] This can be necessary for moderate or severe symptoms. An intranasal corticosteroid needs to be used regularly to get the best effect. For example, using it daily (before symptoms occur) during the crushing season if sugar cane is known to be a trigger. This nasal spray can be used together with an antihistamine for best results.

Antihistamines and nasal corticosteroids are the main treatment options for seasonal allergies. Decongestant nasal sprays are common but cannot be used for more than a few days and as such are not the drug of choice. Pharmacists have access to a variety of different antihistamines and intranasal corticosteroids, as well as a few other treatments to help relieve your allergies. They can also tell you when you may need to see a doctor for further testing. Don’t just suffer through your allergies this season. Drop in and see one of our knowledgeable pharmacists and get your symptoms under control.


[1] Allergic Rhinitis (Hay Fever). Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA).
[2] Saline Irrigation for Allergic Rhinitis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. June 2018.
[3] Reacting to Allergy Symptoms. Australian Journal of Pharmacy. Aug 2021.
[4] Antihistamines and Allergy. Australian Prescriber. April 2018.
[5] Approach to Management of Allergic Rhinitis. eTherapeutic Guidelines. Accessed Oct 2021