Why your house might be making your hayfever worse, and what to do about it

The springtime weather is a prime trigger for hay fever and allergies - Getty

Perhaps it has already started, with just the faintest suggestion of a tickle in your throat. Or is the tell-tale sign, for you, a faint itch in your eye, and another in your nose? “The pollen types that typically trigger hay fever and asthma are divided into groups,” says Dr Beverley Adams-Groom, an expert in pollen forecasting at the University of Worcester and a pollen expert for Clarityn. “Tree pollen occurs from January to the end of May, grass pollen occurs from late April to the end of July, and weed pollen occurs from late April to mid-September.”

It is a distressingly long period, during which many people sniff, sneeze and suffer. In fact, according to the charity Allergy UK, up to 49 per cent of the UK population now report hay fever symptoms. Yet while there is no cure for these itchy unfortunates, it is possible to make the home a haven from these symptoms.

“My whole family has the most horrendous hay fever,” says Elinor Olisa, an art dealer and co-founder of online gallery DegreeArt.com. In fact, they are so plagued by allergies that she and her husband designed and built a house to keep them at bay. The family home in Richmond featured in Grand Designs, and over the following years she has seen the positive impact their design choices have had on their children’s symptoms. “We felt the safer you can make your space, the more pollen-free, the more of a haven it will feel,” she says.

Most people will find relief in an over-the-counter, non-sedating antihistamine, says Margaret Kelman, a specialist allergy nurse at Allergy UK. But, she agrees: “There are other measures that can be used to reduce exposure to pollen that are fairly easy to implement around the home too.” Here are some tips to consider.

The hall

Take off your outer clothing straight away so you don't bring pollen into the house
Take off your outer clothing straight away so you don't bring pollen into the house - cloudytronics/istockphoto

Remember coat racks and shoe racks

“When my sons have been out in the park, I get them to take off their outer clothing straight away so it’s not coming into the house, because pollen does stick to your clothing,” says Olisa.

“We always have a shoe rack, partly for cleanliness but also for allergies – it’s a no-brainer really,” agrees Sheron Ravi, a psychotherapist turned interior designer whose company, Wellness Interiors, aims to create homes that benefit the health of its clients.

Shedding your shoes and outerwear in a space apart from your main home is ideal, both say. “If you have a separate porch, where you can hang your coat and leave your shoes, buggy, bikes and more before walking into the house, that’s the ideal scenario really,” says Ravi. “In the countryside, a boot room can be a holding space for those bits during pollen season. Come through the back door, instead of the front, straight into the boot room, shed your outdoor wear there, and close the door.”

Protect yourself from pets

Dogs are man’s best friend. Except, perhaps, during hay fever season. “Remember that pets can bring pollen in with them from outside,” says Dr Adams-Groom. Both she and Kelman recommend wiping pets down before letting them roll around in the house.

The sitting room

Swap cut flowers for green plants

“I love flowers, but you can’t bring them into a hay feverish home,” says Olisa. “We go for green plants instead; often you can choose ones that also have air-cleaning properties.”

Areca palms are particularly good at trapping allergens, and filtering chemicals such as formaldehyde and trichloroethylene that can exacerbate symptoms.

Removable and washable cushion and sofa covers

“Any soft furnishings and fabrics should be easy to take off and wash,” says Ravi. “My sofa cushions come off and are run through the washing machine.”

Ditch the heavy curtains and rugs

Wherever possible we have hard floors, because you can keep them dust free,” says Olisa. Ravi agrees. Her home is predominantly timber-floored, not carpeted: “We have rugs downstairs. If you’re thinking rugs, you probably want short-pile as pollen can hang around and get trapped in high-pile rugs.”

Ditto curtains. “We have very few curtains in the house,” says Olisa, who suggests opting for solid door and window coverings like shutters and blinds if possible, since they are easier to wipe clean of pollen. Still, says Ravi: “If you do have the whole pelmet, swags and tails then use a damp cloth to wipe them down every so often.” Whatever you cover your windows with, remember to keep them closed when the pollen count is high, says Kelman: “This is most important in the early mornings, when pollen is being released, and in the evening, when the air cools.”

The kitchen

Clean with care

According to research from Clarityn, 27 per cent of hay fever sufferers vacuum more frequently in the season, in a bid to combat their symptoms. “Try to find a vacuum cleaner with an anti-allergy setting,” says Olisa. Many vacuum cleaners now boast a HEPA (or high-efficiency particulate air) filter that promises to capture the smallest of particles and provide relief for allergy sufferers.

A heated drying rack is safer than hanging clothes outside
A heated drying rack is safer than hanging clothes outside - blackdovfx/istockphoto

If you really want to sort the hay fever wheat from the chaff, however, the best place to look is the Allergy UK website. Before the charity bestows its seal of approval on a product, it must be independently and scientifically proven as effective at reducing or removing allergens. And not just allergens in general. For a vacuum cleaner to meet these daunting standards, “We would need to make sure that the reduction potential for each particular allergen meets our thresholds,” explains Hunish Sembhi, the charity’s head of endorsements. “Whether that’s pollen or dust mites or cat allergens, cockroach allergens... each specific one will need to be tested individually.”

So when the charity says a vacuum cleaner is effective for hay fever, it really means it.  “With vacuums, we’re also looking at the types of surfaces they are effective on,” continues Sembhi. “Do they reduce that allergen on hard floor, carpet, or soft furnishings?” The charity even takes the emptying process into account: “Some vacuums are really handy because they have unique ways of emptying the bag or pot,” says Sembhi, meaning that you don’t douse yourself in allergens at this final stage in your spring clean.

Dry indoors

When your clothes are washed and clean, it may be tempting to hang them outside in the spring sunshine. Resist, however. “Try to dry indoors, not outside, where your laundry will attract more pollen,” says Ravi. A heated drying rack, though less romantic, may well become your best friend.

The bedroom

Boost your bedding

“Allergies are known to disrupt your sleep, and sometimes even worsen in the bedroom versus other parts of the home, so having bedding that is able to combat these is integral to a good night’s rest,” says Chris Tattersall, sleep expert and managing director of Woolroom, the only natural bedding company to have won the Allergy UK Seal of Approval.

Because wool absorbs and desorbs moisture efficiently, wool duvets, pillows and mattress protectors are less tempting to dust mites, mould and fungi – allergens that can exacerbate hay fever symptoms. Wool bedding may even clean the air around you as you sleep, Tattersall suggests. Research suggests that wool textiles, including mattresses, can improve indoor air quality by absorbing common pollutants such as formaldehyde, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, known as volatile organic compounds or VOCs.

Barriers for your bed

Throw a spare sheet over your duvet after making the bed in the morning, suggests Molly Freshwater, co-founder of the Secret Linen Store: “This will help to protect your bed from pollen and you can simply remove it before getting into bed in the evening.”

Purify your air

Want to purify your air further still? A host of air purifiers now claim to be able to alleviate hay fever symptoms. How can you tell which will really stop your eyes streaming? “Find out what the CADR is,” suggests Sembhi. “That’s the ‘clean air delivery rate’. The higher the number, the greater the range within which that air purifier can clean. If you are putting yours in a big sitting room, you’ll want a larger CADR. If it’s for a small bedroom, you might not need to fork out as much cash.”

While the CADR is a measurement of how fast and how wide particles are removed from the air, filtration quality is a measure of how well a purifier captures different particle sizes. Though tiny, pollen is a mid-sized particle (intact pollen grains range from 10 to 100 microns, or μm, compared with fungal spores which span 1-30μm, bacteria which are 0.25-8μm and viruses which you might typically expect to measure less than 0.3μm in diameter). An air purifier that captures them all is not to be sneezed at.

Buys to try


Dyson Purifier Hot+Cool Formaldehyde, £699 

This captures 99.95 per cent of pollutants as small as 0.1 microns including bacteria, viruses, dust and allergens such as pollen. It also heats the room and cools you. So you can sleep, and breathe, easy and itch free.


Thomas Aqua Plus Pet and Family Vacuum Carpet Cleaner, £249

Features a sophisticated water filter system that binds dirt, pet hair, fine dust, allergens and pollen safely and odourlessly. It comes with Allergy UK’s Seal of Approval.


Woolroom’s Deluxe Washable Wool Pillows, two for £100

Naturally hypoallergenic, approved by Allergy UK and made from 100 per cent British wool.


Areca palms, £6.50

Has humidifying and air-purifying qualities and are almost impossible to kill.