How to properly describe your spring allergies

As spring comes, so does allergy season. Millions of people around the world suffer from pollen allergies, so let's look at the words and phrases you can use to describe how this allergy affects us. 

First of all, in English, this type of allergy is called hay fever. Hay is a type of long grass used to feed farm animals. The term became popular in the mid-1850s when many Western people started developing an allergy to it. Nowadays, people are allergic to many things: ragweed is a common allergen in America, and cedar pollen is common in Japan.

The symptoms of hay fever include the following:

  • a runny nose—the substance in your nose is watery, and you often need to wipe or blow your nose;
  • a stuffy nose—the substance in your nose is thick, and you need to blow your nose;
  • red, itchy or watery eyes—rubbing one's eyes can cause them to be very red and watery; 
  • headaches—these may be caused by the stress of hay fever or by the tension related to it;
  • drowsiness or cloudy thinking—thinking clearly and concentrating is difficult, particularly if you take medicine
  • a rash—red, spotty or inflamed skin; and 
  • sneezing—in English, the sound for this action is "achoo", but in Japanese, people say "hakshon"

We should also be careful to use the right word form and pay attention to the pronunciation:

  • allergy /A-lur-ji/ [common noun] — You might say, "I have a cedar pollen allergy;"
  • allergic /a-LUR-jik/ [adjective]— You could also say "I'm allergic to cedar pollen;"
  • allergen /A-lur-jin/ [countable object] This is a formal or academic-sounding word for things you are allergic to. "Careful, this food has many allergens in it."

If you suffer from allergies, you might talk about them like this: 

A: How's it going? 
B: Actually, not too good. My hay fever is really bad today. I was rubbing my eyes this morning, so now they are all red and watery. I've got to prepare for a meeting which is why I don't want to take medicine that will make my mind cloudy. But... *achoo* anyway, I should be going...*achoo!*
A: Bless you.
B: Thank you.

As a side note, the correct response when someone sneezes is "bless you." Hundreds of years ago, English speakers noted that after sneezing, people often got sick. They thought that when someone sneezes, part of their soul broke from their body, leaving an opening that an illness might enter. Of course, nowadays most people do not think this, but it's still polite to say "bless you."

Hopefully you don't need to use this language, but if you do, then now is the time to study it.

This season, if you have to meet an English speaker or take a speaking test like the G.B.C., use this language to talk about how you are feeling. 

runny [adjective]—to describing a liquid or place with a liquid. "I have a runny nose."
running [verb]—to describing a liquid's action. "My nose has been running."
stuffy [adjective]—to describe a blocked or crowded nose. "My nose is stuffy."

itchy [adjective]—the feeling of needing to scratch. "My eyes are itchy."
drowsy [adjective]—the feeling of being sleepy for a long time. "I'm feeling drowsy."
drowsiness [noun]—more formal than the adjective form. "I've experienced drowsiness for the last few days."
sneeze [verb or noun]—the act of sneezing, "I've been sneezing so much! Wow, that was a big sneeze."