Hay fever is the common name for a pollen allergy, which causes symptoms such as sneezing, itchiness, and watery eyes. People with skin allergies may find that hay fever also triggers rashes.
According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI), about 7.8% of adults in the United States have hay fever. It is slightly more common in younger people, affecting 9% of children in 2012.
A pollen allergy can cause a rash when pollen counts are high in spring or summer.
In this article, we look at the symptoms of hay fever, the different types of allergic skin rashes, and the treatments and home remedies.
- frequent sneezing
- a runny or blocked nose
- itchy or watery eyes, known as allergic conjunctivitis
People with severe hay fever may also feel weak and tired and have asthma-like symptoms, such as coughing or wheezing, during spring and summer.
Skin rashes are not among the main symptoms of hay fever. However, people with other skin conditions or skin allergies may notice that their skin flares up when they have hay fever.
A person may experience several types of allergic skin rash during summer. The flare-up may be due to hay fever, or it may occur for different reasons.
Atopic dermatitis causes itchy, dry, and inflamed skin. Among people with moderate-to-severe atopic dermatitis, half also have hay fever, food allergies, or asthma.
People with both atopic dermatitis and hay fever may find that their skin flares up at the same time as their hay fever. Heat and sweat can also worsen atopic dermatitis.
Hives, or urticaria, causes itchy, swollen welts in the skin. People with acute hives only develop a rash when they come into contact with specific triggers, such as allergens or heat. Someone with acute hives may find that their symptoms flare up during the warmer months.
Contact dermatitis occurs when someone touches an allergen or irritating substance, such as poison ivy, poison oak, or sumac. It causes bumpy, scaly, itchy, or swollen skin in the area that came into contact with the substance.
During the summer, people may spend more time outside, making contact with these plants more likely.
In addition to skin allergies and atopic dermatitis, a person may develop a rash during hay fever season for several other reasons that are unrelated to allergies.
Warmer temperatures can cause heat rashes, or prickly heat. This condition occurs when excessive sweating blocks or inflames the sweat ducts in the skin, causing itchy bumps. It is most common in hot, humid environments.
Bees, wasps, and other insects can bite or sting humans, which may cause skin irritation, pain, or swelling. It is normal for insect stings to cause a minor rash, but people who are allergic to insect stings may have a severe reaction that requires emergency treatment.
Spring and summer are when immature black-legged ticks, or nymphs, are most active. This type of tick is the most likely to spread Lyme disease, which causes a skin rash in 70–80% of people who develop the condition.
A Lyme disease rash starts small and then expands gradually into a large ring or bull’s-eye shape. The rash may feel warm, but not itchy or painful.
A doctor can diagnose the cause of a rash by evaluating the person’s symptoms, their medical history, and the appearance of the rash.
If a doctor thinks that someone has an allergy but is unsure what is causing it, they may perform a skin prick test. This test involves exposing the skin to allergens, such as grass or ragweed, and then checking for a reaction.
For rashes that occur or get worse due to hay fever, a person can try the following:
- topical creams to calm inflammation and itching, such as calamine lotion
- over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines to reduce allergy symptoms
- allergy immunotherapy, which “trains” the immune system to stop reacting to an allergen
People with atopic or contact dermatitis, hives, a heat rash, or a mild sting may find that they can soothe their skin at home. A person can try:
- applying cool compresses to the skin
- using lukewarm rather than hot water for washing
- patting the skin dry rather than rubbing it
- using gentle, unscented skin products and soaps
- adding one-quarter of a cup of baking soda or colloidal oatmeal to a bath and soaking the affected area for 10–15 minutes
A person with persistent or severe symptoms may have a condition that requires medical treatment. A person should speak to a doctor if their rash:
- is very painful or swollen
- is weepy or crusty
- produces pus
- occurs alongside a fever
- spreads to other parts of the body
- does not respond to OTC antihistamines
- resembles a target or bull’s-eye
A person should seek emergency help if they are having trouble breathing or have a swollen throat or tongue. These are symptoms of anaphylaxis, which can be fatal.
Hay fever typically causes respiratory symptoms in the nose, throat, and eyes. However, some people may find that their skin also reacts when their allergy symptoms flare up. This flare-up may cause a rash in the form of hives or worsen a preexisting condition, such as atopic dermatitis.
Other seasonal causes of skin rashes include heat rash, poison ivy, insect bites, and Lyme disease. If a person’s symptoms get worse or do not respond to OTC allergy treatments, they should see a doctor.