People often call allergic rhinitis hay fever because pollen and other airborne plant matter, usually most common during the haying season, cause it. It’s not always related to hay, however.

Allergic rhinitis is a respiratory condition with recognizable symptoms like:

The term “hay fever” refers to the haying season, a time in the spring months when farmers harvest and bale hay. This activity can send high concentrations of allergy triggers into the air and cause noticeable allergy symptoms.

But even though hay can cause hay fever, there are other hay fever causes, too. And since it affects nearly 18 million people in the United States at different times of the year, hay is likely one of the less common reasons people get allergic rhinitis.

Hay fever isn’t a fever. Many people who get it won’t have a fever or an increased body temperature.

But the redness that can develop on your face due to irritation from your symptoms can make it appear that you have a fever even when your body temperature is in a typical range.

If you have a fever, you may be experiencing symptoms of a cold or influenza rather than allergic rhinitis. These conditions can cause a fever and other symptoms like body aches and thick mucus discharge.

Hay fever can result from hay. Hay contains many allergy triggers that can cause allergy symptoms, including:

Hay fever is a specific type of allergic rhinitis that develops after exposure to an allergen.

This means that it may only last as long as your exposure to that allergen and goes away on its own with no treatment. It’s often also called seasonal allergies.

Other types last all year long if the allergen is in your environment and not removed or reduced — these are called perennial allergies. These types may persist until you address the cause of your allergies, such as pet dander or dust mites.

Other types of allergies may happen when you experience exposure to specific substances like chemicals in soaps or cleaning supplies. These are known as contact allergies (or contact dermatitis).

Hay fever symptoms are often mild and go away on their own. But more serious symptoms can indicate that you have a cold or the flu.

In these cases, you may want to get medical help to get a diagnosis and treatment for any possible infections.

Common hay fever symptoms

The most common hay fever symptoms include:

  • your nose constantly dripping with watery mucus
  • nasal congestion
  • an itchy nose
  • a scratchy throat or itchiness on the roof of your mouth
  • sneezing
  • red, itchy, or watery eyes
  • a cough that’s dry or produces mucus
  • postnasal drip
  • pain or pressure around your sinuses

Severe hay fever symptoms

Treating or reducing exposure to your allergy triggers can help prevent some severe or long-term symptoms, including:

Hay fever happens when your immune system responds to an allergen as if it’s a harmful substance and makes antibodies to clear it out.

This causes your arteries and veins to widen and release histamine. This immune response is what’s behind hay fever symptoms.

Some common hay fever allergens include:

  • pollen from trees, grasses, or flowers
  • molds or fungi
  • dander from cats, dogs, birds, or other household pets
  • dust mites that live in bedding, carpeting, or curtains

A 2023 study suggested that high concentrations of certain bacteria in the nose, such as Streptococcus salivarias, may increase your risk of developing severe hay fever symptoms.

Read more about the causes of allergic rhinitis.

Hay fever isn’t contagious. Because it doesn’t occur from bacteria or viruses, you can’t pass hay fever symptoms to someone else.

But you can pass a cold or the flu on to someone. Make sure you contact a doctor to get tested for infections before you’re sure that your symptoms aren’t contagious.

Long-term allergy treatments known as allergen immunotherapy can sometimes cure hay fever.

This involves a doctor injecting you with small amounts of substances you’re allergic to over the course of several years. This helps your body build stronger immunity to these substances so that you don’t have strong allergic reactions when exposed to them.

Some common ways to reduce symptoms and treat hay fever include:

  • shutting windows and doors when pollen and other triggers are in high concentrations outdoors
  • wearing glasses or goggles to protect your eyes from exposure to triggers
  • using a dehumidifier to slow or stop mold growth indoors
  • handwashing after touching something you’re allergic to
  • bathing or showering regularly after being outdoors to get allergens off your body
  • taking nondrowsy antihistamines to manage symptoms
  • rinsing out your sinuses with saline rinses
  • putting eye drops in your eyes to reduce irritation or dryness
  • spraying your nostrils with nasal steroid sprays

Read more about the treatments for allergic rhinitis.

Contact a doctor if your symptoms last longer than a week or if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • fever
  • difficulty breathing
  • a sensation of dizziness or disorientation
  • throat swelling up

Hay fever often goes away on its own, but it’s worth getting medical help if your symptoms interfere with your daily activities or last a long time.