Pollen, allergies and hay fever in the Netherlands: how to survive it

Besides the current coronavirus crisis, there’s another issue looming on the horizon. Hay fever season!

Anyone can develop hay fever (or as the Dutch say, hooikooorts) overnight and it can come and go every year. I never used to be affected until just before I moved to the Netherlands, when I was living in the UK it was only mild. Then during my first year here, it didn’t affect me at all. Fast forward to today and I honestly want to die (it’s extremely severe).

Hay fever in the Netherlands

Good news: hay fever will start a bit later for you this year if you’re allergic to Alder pollen. We had an exceptionally chilly winter — and May for that matter, so these little buggers may not be floating about just yet. Check out the pollen count here.

But with sunshine on the way, the season is looming, so I’ll tell you all you need to know to survive hay fever in the Netherlands and this dreadful season!

What is hay fever?

If you’ve got it, you definitely know what it is. But do you really know what’s actually causing it?

Allergic rhinitis, hay fever’s official name, is a condition where the body’s immune system is sensitive and overreacts to an allergen when it doesn’t really need to. The name hay fever is a bit misleading though, as most people are not actually getting allergic reactions because of the hay (we just seem to be allergic to freaking oxygen). There are two types of allergy you can have: seasonal and perennial.

The good news is that most people are seasonal. It means that allergies happen on a seasonal basis — so throughout spring and summer from pollen. If you find yourself feeling crappy for much longer, then you probably have a perennial allergy. This means that you poor sods have to put up with this all year. It’s usually caused by dust mites, mould or pet hair. I’m allergic to pet hair 24/7, so feel for me.

When’s hay fever season in the Netherlands?

You may have found that moving to the Netherlands has uncovered an allergy you never knew you had. Welcome to the club! That’s probably because the Netherlands — being a flat, green land — has an array of trees, flowers, and over 150 types of grass.

Anyway, hay fever season is not limited to one time in the year — there are actually a few different pollen seasons. Tree pollen usually starts right at the start of March, through till the end of May. Then there is a crossover between the two, with grass season — which is why most of us should be dying of right now (but I’m not, anyone else?)

Grass season stays into July and then mould spores happen as we come into Autumn. So for some of us, hay fever season lasts the whole 3 months. There’s no way to know how bad it will be every month until it happens.

What are the symptoms of hay fever?

Hay fever has many different symptoms and you may not get them all. Sadly, I get every single symptom.

  • Itchy, red and puffy eyes
  • A runny or blocked nose
  • Continuous sneezing
  • Itchy skin
  • Lack of concentration
  • Fatigue — lack of sleep
  • Drowsiness
  • Itchy and painful ears
  • Swollen and painful throat
  • Coughing
  • Traces of blood (yes really!) in the ears, throat and nose from continuous symptoms

What is the treatment of hay fever?

This question we are all desperate to answer, and it’s hard to do so because everyone is different. So put that tissue down and listen up, as one of these may work for you!

Antihistamines, antihistamines, antihistamines! Without these, life would be even more unbearable. You can buy different types of antihistamines, many of which you can buy over the counter.

Chances are if you’ve got pretty bad hay fever, then a trip to the doctors is in order because you’re going to need something stronger. If it’s reasonably mild, then a normal one-a-day antihistamine will work its magic. If you’re like me, who takes one and literally nothing happens, then you’re going to need a tablet that you can take more regularly.

The dark side of meds

The stronger the meds, the more side effects. Most are so bad that you aren’t allowed to drive or operate machinery (please read the leaflet on all medication!) Of course, it’s going to rid you of your hay fever, but on a daily basis I have to choose between either:

a. having my whole face and eyes swollen and sneezing every two minutes, or

b. having barely any hay fever symptoms, but feeling completely sedated.

Both make it hard to get on with daily life and performing well at work. So what else can help you?

  • Get a good sleep (if you can) — try going to bed earlier, because hay fever plays hell with your sleep.
  • Shut the windows (at all times) even when it starts to get hot. When it does, invest in a fan and keep those windows shut so the pollen doesn’t come in!
  • Refrain from going outside unless absolutely necessary during high-pollen days. I know this is the worst, and almost impossible if you have to commute to work. But if you can work from home, do ask your boss, because you’re going to be no use to them in the office is all sedated and that.
  • Get some nasal sprays and eye drops — these will really help, but just don’t use them too often or they will have the opposite effect!
  • Get some soft tissues and balm infused ones if you can find them. The cheapest stuff just won’t cut it, unless you want your nose to peel off. That’s 3 months of nose-wiping there.
  • Put vaseline under your nose. It traps the pollen. It really does work!
  • Invest in an air purifier. I’ve never tried one as of yet, but apparently, it cleans the air of pollen particles. So cool!

How can I stay prepared for hooikoorts (aka hay fever) in the Netherlands?

Do all of the above, and don’t forget to take your tablets before the symptoms occur, that way you’ve beaten them to it. Then, of course, check the pollen count for the day. There are many sites for this, even some apps — Hooikoorts is great if you want it on the go. You just need to be one step ahead of your allergy at all times, or it will hit you like a ton of bricks.

Anyway, that’s all for now. I hope we have given you a few helpful tips on how to survive this season. You can survive it, I promise!

Do you have any tips on how to cope with hay fever in the Netherlands? Let us know in the comments. 

Feature Image: Mojca J/ Pexels
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in June 2019, and was fully updated in May 2021 for your reading pleasure.

Emma Brown
A familiar face at DutchRevew. Emma arrived in Holland in 2016 for a few weeks, fell in love with the place and never left. Here she rekindled her love of writing and travelling. Now you'll find her eating stroopwafels in the DutchReview office since 2017.

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  1. What I found the best is to consume local honey.

    Two weeks ago I had such a bad case of hayfever that I looked online and the local honey advise appeared.

    I tried it and voilá, next day almost no sneezing the whole day!!
    Being doing it since, every day. Almost mo sympthoms.

    Try organic honey and if is produced nearby better. There is a honey producer in Amsterdam Noord, at the end of Meteorenweg street.
    They open on fridays.

    • Yes thumbs up for this! In organic stores and markets you can find organic local honey. Also homeopathic remedies – Polinosan from Dr. Vogel. (you can buy at an Etos) But as always with homeopathy you need to start a bit before the season to build up immunity. I take the normal strength in the beginning 1 a day then in high season I use the Forte. It does not clog up your sinuses or make you feel foggy minded. Also I use eye drops and always wash my face with cold water when I come inside to wash the pollen off… good luck !

  2. Yup, I can second Abraham’s suggestion: HONEY it is!

    A spoon a day does it’s magic for me. It does not completely heal me (hey, we’re not in Wonderland here), but it smoothens the symptoms very much, my nose isn’t running 24/7 and I only sneeze a couple times a day.
    The important thing is to get local (aka expensive in most cases) honey. That way you make sure the bees collected pollen from around the place and that kinda interacts with your body. Honey from the supermarkets is great and tastes good but it won’t help with your hayfever. Cash out the extra money, go to a local farmer or farmers market and ask for local organic honey.
    Another thing: as already mentioned in the article, get good quality tissues. Being German I picked the orginal Tempo brand tissues and they do my nose pretty good, no peeling, no Rudolph-the-red-nosed-reindeer-like nose anymore. And, on top of helping keep your nose unharmed, they survive washing in case you forgot one in your pockets (I have two kids, this happens weekly). Normally a tissue makes your washing a nightmare with lil’ white paper balls all over and clinging to all your washed items. With Tempo this is a thing of the past, those tissues just stay in the pocket they wer left in for good and you can remove them after the clothes are dry. No more nervous breakdowns after opening the washing machine…

  3. Very informative article, thank you. I have lived in 5 countries (4 in Europe incl UK) and thought I left my hay fever years behind me in high school. We have now lived in the Netherlands for almost 6 years and my son immediately started getting hay fever and I followed 2 years later and it gets worse every year.Going to follow all your advice plus the honey tip.


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