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Seasonal rhinitis (hay fever)


Seasonal rhinitis, also called hay fever, is an allergic reaction caused by exposure to pollens. In Québec, 1 in 5 people suffers from seasonal rhinitis, which is mainly caused by ragweed pollen.

Seasonal rhinitis usually begins in the spring, when some trees that may cause allergies release their pollen in the air. Thereafter, other allergenic plants release their pollen throughout the summer and until mid-October.

Allergic reactions caused by the various pollens occur at roughly the same periods each year. These periods are as follows:

  • March to June (trees and shrubs pollen)
  • May to October (grass pollen, such as turf, hay, bluegrass and brome)
  • July to October (ragweed pollen)

Climate changes extend the period during which plants and trees produce pollen. As a result, allergy periods may also be longer in the coming years.


Seasonal rhinitis causes different symptoms that are mainly brought on through the inhalation of pollen. Symptoms may appear in the following ways:

  • Worsening of asthma if a person already suffers from it
  • Nasal congestion
  • Signs of conjunctivitis:
    • Itching of eyes
    • Purulent eye discharge
    • Swelling of eyelids
    • Watering eyes
    • Eye redness
  • Runny nose with clear and abundant phlegm
  • Repeated sneezing
  • Headache
  • Tingling and itching of the nose, throat and ears

The side effects of seasonal rhinitis also impact the quality of life of the person allergic and their family. From spring to autumn, daily activities or sports, recreation and performance at work or school can be affected by:

  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Concentration problems
  • Sleeping troubles

Should you have questions regarding symptoms of seasonal rhinitis, contact Info-Santé 811.

When to seek medical help

See a doctor if the following applies:

  • Symptoms persist and affect your quality of life
  • Your symptoms are not relieved by over-the-counter medicines
  • The side effects of medicines are intolerable


Certain over-the-counter medicines are available to relieve symptoms of allergic reactions to seasonal rhinitis. Before using them, consult a health professional, such as a pharmacist for instance.

Besides those available over-the-counter, a doctor can prescribe other treatments and medications to people who suffer severe allergies to pollen. These treatments vary from one person to another. The doctor proposes them and adjusts them according to the severity of the symptoms and the allergic person’s reaction to the different medicines.

When a person suffers from severe respiratory allergies that are not relieved through medication, a doctor may suggest desensitization, sometimes called immunotherapy. This treatment aims to reduce the human body’s sensitivity to the substance responsible for the allergy and to significantly reduce allergic reactions. Treatment consists of giving the person a small dose of the substance to which they are allergic. This dose in administered into the human body through injections, meaning a shot with a syringe. The person receives several injections over many months or years. The dose administered is increased progressively over visits.


Complications of seasonal rhinitis may be manifested the following way:

  • Repeated bouts of sinusitis
  • Allergic asthma symptoms:
    • Coughing
    • Shortness of breath
    • Wheezing

In children, untreated seasonal rhinitis can cause the following:

  • Repeated bouts of sinusitis
  • Ear infections 

Protection and prevention

Several simple and effective measures to avoid contact with pollen can help you reduce the symptoms of seasonal rhinitis:

  • Avoid going outside when pollen concentration is highest, meaning:
    • Between 7 a.m. and 1 p.m.
    • When it’s hot or dry
    • On windy days
  • If possible, keep the windows of your house and vehicle closed
  • Use an air-conditioning system which recycles the air in your house or that has a pollen filter
  • Wear sunglasses outdoors
  • Change clothes and wash yourself as soon as your get home
  • Do not dry your clothes outside
  • Avoid activities that spread pollen, such as mowing grass or raking dead leaves
  • Avoid going into areas where the concentration of pollen is high
  • Avoid contact with other irritants such as cigarette smoke, which can increase allergic symptoms

 The best way to prevent the adverse effects of seasonal rhinitis on health is by reducing the amount of pollen in the air through the elimination of ragweed on your land. See Identifying and limiting the presence of ragweed to learn how to recognize and get rid of it.

Last update: June 13, 2023


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