Hay fever

Hay fever (allergic rhinitis) is a common immune response caused by an allergic reaction to environmental allergens such as pollens, dust, mould and animal hair.

There are three types of allergic rhinitis; seasonal, perennial and occupational. Hay fever often occurs during spring (seasonal), when there are many airborne pollens, dust, moulds and animal hair particles in the air. Some people can develop hay fever all year round (perennial) or it can be triggered by an allergen they have become sensitive to in the workplace (occupational). Farmers have an increased risk of hay fever as many farming tasks involve direct contact with environmental allergens.

If farmers experience seasonal, perennial or occupational hay fever it is important to identify the triggering allergen and attempt to eliminate or reduce symptoms. Symptoms begin immediately after exposure to an allergen and will last until allergen exposureis eliminated. Farmers who experience seasonal hay fever may have symptoms that last for several weeks.

Common symptoms of hay fever include:

  • Blocked or runny nose
  • Itchy ears, nose and throat
  • Itchy, red, watery eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Headaches

Common hay fever causes:

  • Grass, weeds and tree pollens
  • Dust mites and dust
  • Animal fur or skin flakes
  • Moulds and fungal spores
  • Air pollutants

When to get help

Sometimes hay fever will clear up without treatment. If it doesn’t, it is important to seek medical advice, particularly if feeling tired and finding it difficult to concentrate, work and sleep. If an onset of thick green mucous from the nose occurs, it could indicate a sinus infection which requires medical treatment.

Where to get help

If experiencing seasonal hay fever, ask your local pharmacist or GP for medication. Ensure you explain the type of work you do on the farm as some hay fever medications may make you drowsy making it unsafe to operate farm machinery or drive. If hay fever develops due to ongoing exposure to an environmental allergen in the workplace discuss this with you GP.


  • Identify the triggering environmental allergen.
  • Eliminate and reduce exposure to the allergen.
  • If allergen exposure can’t be eliminated, attempt to reduce exposure.  For example, if the dust in the livestock yards is an allergen, hose down the yards when mustering stock to reduce airborne dust.
  • Check the daily pollen forecast and try to stay indoors on high pollen days if possible.
  • Purchase respiratory protection such as an Australian Standard P2 dust mask if allergen is caused by dust. Ensure the mask fits and seals the face correctly. Facial hair can reduce mask effectiveness.

Seek an AgriSafe™ clinic to have a P2 dust mask properly fit tested

Fast facts:

  • Hay fever (allergic rhinitis) is an allergic immune response that causes sneezing, runny nose and watery, itchy eyes
  • Hay fever can be triggered by pollens and grass, or dust mites and animal fur.
  • Farmers are at risk of hay fever as many farming tasks involve direct contact with environmental allergens.
  • Identify hay fever triggers and develop strategies to eliminate, control and reduce exposure.
  • Seek medical advice from your local pharmacist or GP if symptoms persist and affect your quality of life.
  • Don’t operate or drive machinery if hay fever medication makes you drowsy.

References used for this topic

More information:

Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy
Is it allergic rhinitis (hay fever)?

Better Health Channel
Hay fever

Hay fever (allergic rhinitis)

The University of Melbourne and Pollen Forecast Network
Pollen Forecast

Clinical care:

Medical Journal of Australia
Optimising the management of allergic rhinitis: an Australian perspective

Hay fever allergic rhinitis and you asthma

Research & reviews:

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
Allergic Rhinitis in Australia

International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health
Lifetime allergic rhinitis prevalence among U.S. primary farm operators: findings from the 2011 Farm and Ranch Safety survey

Clinical and Experimental Allergy
Prevalence of hay fever and allergic sensitization in farmer’s children and their peers living in the same rural community

Journal of Agromedicine
Pesticide use, allergic rhinitis, and asthma among US farm operators