Hay fever wrecking your summer? We recommend the best hay fever treatments for adults and children to keep those sneezes under control
The best hay fever treatments aren’t just for summer – they relieve you from the misery of allergies all year round. Steroid nasal sprays open up your breathing passages to relieve stuffiness, eye drops relieve dry and itchy eyes, and antihistamine tablets can end the misery of a whole collection of hay fever symptoms, from skin rashes to sneezing.
All these hay fever treatments work in slightly different ways, and while finding the best treatment for your hay fever symptoms will involve a bit of trial and error, we’re here to help. Read on, and we’ll share advice from a leading pharmacist on the best treatments for different hay fever symptoms, then reveal the treatments that receive the best feedback from users.
Skip ahead to find out which hay fever treatments we recommend, or carry on reading to find out more about choosing the right one to soothe your symptoms.
Best hay fever treatments: At a glance
- Best hay fever treatment for itchy eyes: Fusion Allergy Eye Drops | £9.99
- Best hay fever nasal spray for easier breathing:Beconase Hayfever Relief | £4
- Best one-a-day non-drowsy hay fever tablets: Piriteze Allergy Tablets | £6.49
- Best for relieving multiple symptoms fast: Benadryl Allergy Relief Capsules | £3.60
How to choose the best hayfever treatment for you
Which type of hay fever treatment is best for me?
Let your symptoms be your guide. Hussain Abdeh, superintendent pharmacist at Medicine Direct, told us: “Some people find that hay fever causes breathing problems, while others are more affected by itchy skin or red, irritated eyes. Particular symptoms will respond better to certain treatments.”
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If you have a whole range of hay fever symptoms, then antihistamine tablets are your best bet. “Antihistamines can help with a wide picture of symptoms,” said Hussain. “Not just sneezing, runny noses and tickly throat but also surface problems like skin rashes and red eyes.” What’s more, antihistamine tablets are relatively cheap, fast-acting, and easy to take.
If your main symptom is a stuffy nose, then a nasal spray will provide more noticeable relief. “Corticosteroid (steroid) nasal sprays are best for targeting nasal inflammation and breathing difficulties caused by hay fever,” said Hussain. “The corticosteroid medicine contained in the spray acts at the site of the issue, helping to relieve the inflammation and unblock the nose.”
Nasal sprays are more expensive than tablets, and not everyone likes using them. But they’re brilliant for helping you breathe, especially at night. What’s more, they may even help you build up hay fever resistance over time. “Corticosteroids will help the body build up a resistance to hay fever symptoms, so they’re usually better in the long run,” said Hussain.
How do all these different hay fever treatments work?
Antihistamine tablets work by blocking the effects of histamine. This is a chemical released by the immune system which causes the blood vessels to expand and the skin to swell. It’s this swelling that causes stuffiness in your nose (which in turn leads to sneezing, coughing and runny eyes) and red, itchy skin.
Most non-prescription antihistamines are the non-drowsy type (although some people do find they make them sleepy). The two main types are cetirizine (such as Piriteze) and loratadine (such as Clarityn). Acrivastine (such as Benadryl Allergy Relief) is a newer type of non-drowsy antihistamine that works faster.
You can buy “drowsy” antihistamines without a prescription, too. Chlorphenamine maleate is the active ingredient in Piriton Syrup, which is one of the few hay fever treatments suitable for young children.
Nasal sprays are anti-inflammatory medicines that help you breathe more easily, and in turn relieve sneezing and sore throats. They can dramatically improve your sleep if you’re a hay fever sufferer.
There are two main types of nasal spray that help you breathe more easily:
- Decongestant nasal spray (such as Sudafed Blocked Nose Spray) works almost instantly by shrinking your blood vessels, but can create dependency if you use it for more than a few days at a time.
- Steroid nasal sprays (such as Beconase) have powerful anti-inflammatory effects, and are an effective long-term solution for hay fever sufferers. However, their effects take a few days to kick in, so you could use a decongestant spray temporarily while the steroid spray gets to work.
Saline nasal sprays are also becoming popular, too. These sprays don’t contain any chemicals at all, just sterile saline solution to “wash” pollen and other allergens out of the nasal cavity. You can use them as much as you like, unlike chemical spray.
Eye drops containing sodium cromoglicate reduce irritation and inflammation, so they can be a really effective quick fix for hay fever-affected eyes.
Ectoin is a natural compound used in the Fusion Allergy range of products, including eye drops (which we recommend below) and lozenges. Ectoin coats the mucous membranes of the skin with water molecules, helping to protect the skin from allergens and irritants.
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The best hay fever treatments you can buy in 2023
1. Benadryl Allergy Relief Capsules: Best hay fever tablets to relieve multiple symptoms fast
Price when reviewed: £3.60 | Check price at AmazonFor those of us who’ve tried all the cetirizine and loratadine tablets without quite figuring out which one helped, the arrival of Benadryl Allergy Relief was a game changer, even a life-changer.
For those who respond well to it, the active ingredient acrivastine works much faster than the two main established types of antihistamine. It provides noticeable relief from a stuffy nose, sneezing and itching within 15 minutes. The capsule format is also particularly easy to swallow.
The main downside of Benadryl Allergy Relief is that it’s relatively expensive. Amazon’s £3.60 for 12 capsules is a good buy compared with some high street prices we’ve seen, but these capsules aren’t one-per-day like many other antihistamines. Their effects last eight hours, so you may need three per day (three being the maximum dosage), and they’re not recommended for under 12s. But they really work, and fast, making them a top recommendation.
Key specs – Size: x12; Format: Capsules; Active ingredient: Acrivastine
Benadryl Allergy Relief Capsules - Fast-Acting Antihistamine Capsules - Starts to Work in 15 Minutes - 12 Capsules
£4.80 (£0.40 / count) Check price
2. Beconase Hayfever Relief: Best hay fever nasal spray for easier breathing
Price when reviewed:£4 | Check price at AmazonBeclometasone is a corticosteroid (aka steroid), commonly used in asthma inhalers. In a lower dose, it’s very effective against the stuffy-nose symptoms of hay fever. It’s also great for avoiding the knock-on effects such as sneezing, a runny nose and a dry throat caused by breathing through your mouth.
The small bottle, with its mini “shelf” at the top, is really easy to use. Hold it with your thumb and two fingers, and squirt up each nostril twice a day. We don’t find the taste, smell or sensation unpleasant, but some may find it takes a bit of getting used to.
As the NHS explains on this page, steroids such as beclomethasone take a few days to have their anti-inflammatory effect. So don’t expect to be breathing freely within minutes. But unlike instant decongestant nasal sprays, steroid sprays can be used long term.
Key specs – Size: 30ml; Format: Nasal spray; Active ingredient: Beclometasone
Beconase Hayfever Relief Nasal Spray - 8 in 1 Effective Relief for Allergy Symptoms - Non-drowsy - 100 Sprays,1 Count (Pack of 1)
£4.99 Check price
3. Piriteze Allergy Tablets: Best one-a-day non-drowsy hay fever tablets
Price when reviewed: £6.49 | Check price at AmazonDifferent antihistamines do the trick for different people, so it can be hard to recommend one over another. But these tiny lozenge-shaped tablets have the best all-round user feedback of all one-per-day hayfever tablets.
Users rave about their effectiveness against symptoms of all kinds of allergies, including dust mites and pets, as well as pollen. Many buyers claim that Piriteze has been more effective for them than unbranded alternatives. And at £6.49 for a month’s supply, they’re good value. Piriteze is suitable for children aged 6+.
Key specs – Size: x30; Format: Tablets; Active ingredient: Cetirizine hydrochloride
£6.90 (£0.23 / count) Check price
4. Boots One-a-Day Loratadine: Best-value loratadine tablets for hay fever
Price when reviewed£10 | Check price at BootsThis is Boots’ own-brand version of Clarityn, whose active ingredient loratadine proves more effective than cetirizine in some people. (Multiple scientific studies have found no objective difference in effectiveness, even on different specific allergy types, so it really is your body’s choice.)
Clarityn is at the pricey end of the scale, costing more than £10 for 30 tablets, but it’s worth keeping an eye out for offers. For instance, Boots was recently offering three 30-tablet boxes of equivalent dose loratadine for under £15 – and it still has individual 30-tablet boxes on a 2-for-£8 offer at the time of writing. If you find this hay fever medication is the most effective one for you, take advantage of offers when you can.
Key specs – Size: 90 (3 x30); Format: Tablets; Active ingredient: Loratadine
5. Fusion Allergy Eye Drops: Best hay fever treatment for itchy eyes
Price when reviewed:£9.99 | Check price at BootsThese soothing eye drops contain the natural compound Ectoin. Ectoin is becoming popular in sun protection and skincare products, thanks to its ability to protect cells from stress. The Fusion Allergy range, which also includes lozenges and eye spray, protects the surface of your eyes, nasal cavity and throat and prevents allergens (such as pollen) from doing damage.
We particularly like these eye drops, because their effectiveness is both immediate (they’re really soothing) and long term (they protect your eyes from allergens). They’re also great for calming your eyes down if you’re suffering from conjunctivitis. You can use them as many times a day as you want, too.
Key specs – Size: 15 x0.5ml; Format: Drops; Active ingredient: Ectoin
6. Piriton Syrup: Best hay fever treatment for children with itchy rashes – and for helping you sleep
Price when reviewed: £4.99 | Check price at Lloyds PharmacyMost hayfever treatments are designed for adults and older children, but this syrup is suitable for all the family. That doesn’t mean it’s too gentle to be effective, though. It provides fast relief from hay fever symptoms and all kinds of allergic reactions, plus pain and itching from nettle stings, prickly heat, and even chickenpox.
Unlike most over-the-counter antihistamines, which are non-drowsy, chlorphenamine maleate has sedative effects (much like Benylin). You can buy a slightly stronger dose in Piriton Allergy Tablets, but these shouldn’t be given to children under 6.
Key specs – Size: 150ml; Format: Syrup; Active ingredient: Chlorphenamine maleate