An Overview of Hay Fever Rash

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Hay fever rash is a lesser-known and less common symptom of hay fever, otherwise known as seasonal allergies or allergic rhinitis. The same inhaled allergens that cause sneezing and watery eyes can cause itchy, red, inflamed bumps or welts across the skin. And though they are not a product of hay fever itself, rashes that often co-occur with such an attack may be called hay fever rashes as well.

This includes allergic contact dermatitis (rashes that occur when you touch an allergen—perhaps the same one that's causing your stuffiness), as well as eczema rashes that are worsened by hay fever.

Causes

Hay fever rashes develop when the body mounts an immune response to otherwise harmless substances in the air, like pollen from blooming trees, weeds, grasses, and also dust and pet dander. (In fact, hay fever rash is sometimes called a pollen rash.)

When you inhale these allergens, mast cells in your body release a chemical called histamine into the bloodstream. As a result, you get the symptoms typically associated with hay fever: sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes, etc. When histamine is released into the dermis (the lower layer of your skin), it causes a reaction in the skin, creating a red, inflamed, itchy rash.

Allergic contact dermatitis and eczema rashes are also associated with allergic rhinitis, though the reasons they occur differ from this.

Allergic Contact Dermatitis

Allergic contact dermatitis is a type of rash that develops when your skin touches a substance you're allergic to. This reaction can happen completely independently of hay fever (say, due to an allergy to metal on a watch), but it can also occur along with it because of a shared trigger.

For example, you may sneeze when pollen counts are high. You may also develop a rash if you cut flowers from your garden. It's easy to see how these two reactions can overlap as well, as allergens that can be inhaled are often on things you touch in your environment (think of a dusty table).

The amount of time that occurs between when you touch a triggering substance and when allergic contact dermatitis appears is variable. It can occur within minutes or develop hours or days after the exposure.

You may be surprised to know that you can develop a rash after having skin contact with a plant or substance you have been able to touch previously without developing a rash.

Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema)

Atopic dermatitis, better known by the common name eczema, is another type of rash that is closely linked to hay fever.

The association between eczema and hay fever is twofold. First, people with eczema are much more likely to also have hay fever and asthma. It's part of what is called the "atopic triad," or a group of allergic/hypersensitivity conditions that commonly appear together.

Secondly, hay fever can trigger a flare-up of eczema. Many people with eczema find their skin condition is worse during the prime hay fever seasons of spring, summer, and early fall.

It's important to note that hay fever itself does not cause eczema, nor vice versa. Hay fever can, however, exacerbate eczema symptoms.

Symptoms

Rash is not a common symptom of hay fever, but it can happen occasionally. Some people are more prone to developing a hay fever rash than others. Hay fever can also make your skin feel generally itchy without causing a rash.

Hives

True hay fever rashes cause red, raised welt-like bumps called hives. Hives are extremely itchy and can occur anywhere on the body. They can range in size from as small as a pencil eraser to larger than several inches across.

Hives can also occur along with swelling of the skin (angioedema). Hives typically fade after several hours to days, but they can be chronic especially if one can't avoid the offending allergens.

Associated Rashes

Allergic contact dermatitis causes red, itchy, blister-like bumps across the skin. The bumps, called vesicles, may ooze or weep. This rash may also be scaly and dry, especially if it is chronic or long-lasting. Allergic contact dermatitis develops only on areas of skin that came in direct contact with an allergen.

Eczema is different than true hay fever rash or allergic contact dermatitis in that it is a chronic skin condition. Eczema is red, itchy, or painful; the skin also looks and feels dry and scaly.

This condition appears in what are considered "typical" areas (the face, inner elbows, behind the knees, hands, and feet), rather than on areas that have come in contact with a trigger substance. Although eczema can develop at any age, it most often begins in infancy or early childhood.

Diagnosis

A physician can diagnose most rashes with a physical exam coupled with your medical history. There are other tests that can be done, such as a KOH prep test (AKA skin scraping) or skin biopsy, to rule out other possible conditions.

It's always a good idea to see a doctor if you're experiencing a rash for the first time.

Allergy testing may be necessary to determine what triggered your rash. If you don't know what you're allergic to a specialty doctor called an immunologist can perform certain tests to identify the culprit. This may include blood tests or skin patch testing.

Once you have identified the substance(s) you are allergic to you can take measures to avoid the substance in the future to prevent future problems. The more you are exposed to the triggering substance the more severe your symptoms may become.

Treatment

Many of the treatments that you normally use to control your hay fever symptoms can also be beneficial in preventing and treating associated skin rashes.

  • Antihistamines, including fexofenadine and diphenhydramine, help relieve itching and are the first-line treatment for hives. If you are looking for an antihistamine that specifically helps skin rashes talk to your doctor or pharmacist. Antihistamines typically treat hives very effectively, but many rashes do not respond to antihistamines.
  • Cold compresses, calamine lotion, or colloidal oatmeal baths can soothe irritated, itchy skin, no matter the cause.
  • Topical steroid creams, including over-the-counter (OTC) hydrocortisone, desonide, and clobetasol are common treatments for both eczema and allergic contact dermatitis. All topical steroids, including OTC products, should be used with care on the face and never used around the eyes. Seek advice from a physician before using an OTC topical steroid on a child.
  • Use moisturizing creams several times per day, since dry skin makes itching and eczema feel worse. Choose one that contains emollient ingredients such as petrolatum, mineral oil, squalane, or dimethicone.
  • Avoiding or limiting contact with the triggering substance is crucial. You may need to change your clothes after spending time outside, keep your windows closed when pollen counts are high, or take other precautions to help you avoid certain allergens.
  • Immunotherapy (allergy shots), for severe allergies, may be an option that can reduce symptoms or even cure your hay fever. This treatment continues to evolve, making it more cost-effective, convenient, and less painful (ask your doctor about sublingual immunotherapy).

A Word From Verywell

Hay fever can trigger various skin rashes, each slightly different in the specific causes and symptoms. If you do have seasonal allergies, you will likely be more prone to developing allergic skin rashes. Fortunately, in most cases, these rashes can be managed. Talk to your doctor or allergist to get the most effective treatment plan for you.

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Article Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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