Hay fever

Hay fever (allergic rhinitis) is an immune inflammatory response caused by an allergic reaction to environmental allergens. There are three types of allergic rhinitis, seasonal, perennial and occupational. Hay fever is very common and often occurs during spring (seasonal), when there are many airborne pollens, dust, moulds and animal hair particles in the air. Other individuals can develop hay fever all year round (perennial) or have it triggered by an allergen they have become sensitive to in their workplace (occupational). Farmers have an increased risk of hay fever as many farming tasks involve direct contact with environments where pollens, dust, moulds and animal hair are formed. If farmers experience seasonal, perennial or occupational hay fever it is important for them to identify the triggering allergen and identify actions which will eliminate or reduce the risk of developing hay fever symptoms. Symptoms of hay fever will begin immediately after exposure to an allergen and the duration of symptoms will occur until expose to the allergen is 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

 When to get help

Sometimes hay fever will clear up without treatment. If it doesn’t, then it is important to seek medical advice, particularly if feeling tired, miserable and finding it difficult to concentrate, work and sleep. If an onset of thick green mucous from the nose occurs, it would indicate the development of sinusitis (an infection in the sinuses) and require 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 will make you drowsy and increase your risk of an accident when operating farm machinery or driving! If hay fever develops due to ongoing exposure to an environmental allergen in the workplace – then discuss this with you GP. Referral to a specialist for further investigation will be required.


  • Identify the triggering environmental allergen.
  • Eliminate and reduce exposure to identified allergen.
  • If eliminating the expose to an allergen can’t be achieved, then apply administration control measures to reduce the risk of exposure.  For example, if dust in the livestock yards is the allergen, then hose down the yards when mustering stock to reduce airborne dust particles.
  • Purchase respiratory personal protection, such as an Australian Standard compliant P2 dust mask if the allergen is caused by organic dusts. Ensure the mask fits and seals the face correctly. Note the presence of facial hair and beards can reduce the effectiveness of the mask.

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

Fast facts:

  • Farmers are at risk of hay fever as many farming tasks involve direct contact with environments where environmental allergens such are formed.
  • Identify the triggering hay fever allergen and develop strategies to eliminate, control and minimise 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 taking medication that 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

Clinical care:

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

National Asthma Council Australia
Managing allergic rhinitis in people with asthma (PDF)

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