The Link Between Hay Fever and Asthma

Have you ever wondered if your runny nose, sneezing and itchy watery eyes were related to your asthma? It turns out that your hay fever, referred to as seasonal allergic rhinitis by your healthcare provider, is a significant risk factor for the development of asthma.

Asthma and hay fever often exist together. As many as 80% of asthmatics have some form of hay fever.

Woman using inhaler while hiking

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Do You Have Hay Fever Symptoms?

As with asthma symptoms, hay fever symptoms will vary from person to person. Many patients report symptoms associated with their eyes, throat, ears and sleep in addition to a runny nose.

To formally diagnose you, your healthcare provider will want to know:

  • Seasonal versus perennial: Do the symptoms occur with a particular season or year-round?
  • Symptom frequency: Intermittent (less than 4 days per week, and for less than 4 weeks a year) versus persistent (more than 4 days in a week or more than 4 weeks in a year).

Some of the symptoms you and your healthcare provider are likely to discuss include:

  • Nose: Blocked or itchy nose, sneezing, facial pain or pressure, and postnasal dripping that may cause you to cough or frequently clear your throat.
  • Eyes: Red and itchy eyes, feeling of a foreign body or grittiness in the eyes, under-eye darkness and swelling (allergic shiners).
  • Throat and ears: Voice changes and hoarseness, sore or scratchy throat, congestion and popping of the ears.
  • Sleep: Frequent nighttime awakenings, a need for mouth breathing, daytime tiredness and difficulty completing tasks or work.

Accurate Diagnosis of Hay Fever Is Essential

In order to make a diagnosis of hay fever, your healthcare provider will take a history, perform a physical exam and possibly order some tests.

Medical History

A discussion between you and your healthcare provider about the previously mentioned symptoms and your experience with them is the cornerstone of hay fever diagnosis.

Your healthcare provider will also likely ask you about:

Your healthcare provider may also ask questions to make sure your rhinitis does not have another cause, such as:

  • Sinusitis
  • Asthma
  • Common cold
  • Non-allergic rhinitis
  • Atrophic rhinitis
  • Rhinitis medicamentosa
  • Medication usage (some birth control pills, blood pressure medications, and psychiatric medications may be to blame)
  • Hormonal changes due to pregnancy or hypothyroidism
  • Nasal polyp

Physical Exam

Your healthcare provider will examine several different parts of your body to help confirm your hay fever diagnosis and make sure something else is not causing your symptoms.

The exam may include:

  • Nose: Looking for swollen nasal tissue that may look pale or blue, or for any anatomical defects like a deviated nasal septum.
  • Eyes: Looking for allergic shiners and to check to see if the eyes are swollen, watery or red.
  • Sinus: Pain or tenderness over the sinuses may indicate a sinus infection instead of hay fever.
  • Mouth: Examining the mouth can exclude conditions like tonsillitis and uncover evidence of chronic mouth breathing.
  • Chest and Lungs: Looking for signs of infection or asthma.
  • Skin: Looking for other signs of allergy, such as hives or eczema.

Diagnostic Testing

If your healthcare provider suspects a hay fever diagnosis based on your history and physical exam, he may either recommend treatment or perform additional diagnostic testing to confirm the diagnosis.

Further diagnostic testing in hay fever is generally useful if:

  • The diagnosis is not clear after the medical history and physical exam.
  • Symptoms remain despite adequate treatment, or you do not respond to treatment like your healthcare provider thinks you should.
  • You and your practitioner are unable to identify potential allergens in your home, office, and school settings.
  • The hay fever appears to be work-related.

If your medical professional feels that you might benefit from testing for hay fever, he may order:

  • IgE Level: This blood test cannot make a diagnosis of hay fever, but elevated IgE levels related to specific allergens can help make the diagnosis.
  • Skin testing: This prick method of allergy testing is one of the most common diagnostic tests used to detect allergy to a particular substance.


There are a plethora of treatment options for patients with hay fever.

Treatment of hay fever has been shown to:

  • Improve asthma control
  • Decrease airway hyper-responsiveness
  • Decreases ER visits
  • Possibly prevent the development of asthma
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. Diseases 101: Rhinitis and Sinusitis.

  • Weber, RW. Allergic Rhinitis. Primary Care Clinics In Office Practice. Volume 35 (2008): 1-10.

By Pat Bass, MD
Dr. Bass is a board-certified internist, pediatrician, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Physicians.