The hay fever season is upon us. It is an often under-estimated condition, but those that suffer will know all too well that is can be extremely debilitating and turn a bright sunny day into a miserable one. Anyone, from the very young to the elderly can suffer and in the worst cases it drives individuals to hide away indoors to avoid the dreaded pollen. Allergy UK explains the condition and provides some helpful advice for sufferers.
Hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollens from trees, grass and weeds which affects people in the spring and summer, but some people also suffer from allergy to mould spores from fungi and leaf mould in the autumn and mild winters. Common symptoms include sneezing, runny nose, congestion, sinus pain, skin rashes and red itchy eyes leading to sleep deprivation and affecting sufferers’ performance at work or school. A 2007 study even showed that in teenagers, hay fever can affect them to the point where they can drop a grade in exams.
In the UK, birch tree pollen and grass pollens cause the most widespread symptoms with the highest pollen counts between May and July. Managing hay fever requires a combination of using the correct treatment and attempting to avoid pollen as much as possible, which is not an easy thing.
The first line of treatments is antihistamine, available as tablets, syrups, eye drops or nasal sprays. A tablet will help eye symptoms as well as the nose and also skin rashes. Antihistamines can be prescribed by your GP or bought at a pharmacy. It is important to choose a modern, non-sedating one which acts for up to 24 hours. Anti-inflammatory nasal sprays can also help eye symptoms, nasal swelling and congestion whilst eye drops help reduce swollen eyes. GPs can prescribe a stronger eye drop for more severe eye symptoms.
Non-drug interventions are also worth exploring. Smearing a barrier balm, such as Vaseline or petroleum jelly, around the nostrils stops pollen grains from entering the nose. You can also apply it around sunglasses to help prevent pollen getting to the eyes. Douching the nose with saline type solutions available from a pharmacy washes away allergens and can help reduce symptoms. To help with sleep deprivation, there are various air purifiers on the market that can provide respite in the bedroom. Choose one that is proven to trap even small particles. Also available are mini USB-powered purifiers that are useful in cars to reduce symptoms while travelling.
Follow these additional top tips to help alleviate symptoms:
- Monitor pollen forecasts daily and try to stay indoors on those days when the count is highest – rain washes pollen from the air so pollen counts should be lower on cooler, wetter days
- When you go out, shower and wash your hair on return and change your clothing before going back into the living room or bedroom, to help reduce pollen levels within your home
- Wipe pets’ coats with a damp microfibre cloth to remove pollens when they have been out
- Keep windows closed when indoors – this is most important in early mornings when pollen is being released, and in the evening when the air cools and pollens that have been carried high into the air begin to fall to ground level again
- Keep car windows closed and the air intake on re-circulate when driving. Choose a car that is fitted with an effective pollen filter, or get an in-car air filter
- Wear wraparound sunglasses when outdoors to keep pollen allergens out of your eyes
- Avoid drying washing on a clothes line outside when pollen counts are high
- Sea breezes blow pollen inland, so escape to the coast for your walks instead of rural areas
- If you know which pollen affects you most, plan your walks to suit - grass pollen sufferers will fare better within woodlands whilst tree pollen sufferers may prefer open fields
If despite taking the above medication and non-drug interventions you are still suffering, then your GP may wish to refer you to a specialist as there are further treatments that can be prescribed by hospital professionals that can’t be prescribed by GPs. For those that suffer severely, specific immunotherapy is a long-established and effective treatment. It is only available in specialist hospital allergy clinics and the usual method is a series of regular injections over three months, followed by a monthly maintenance injection for three years.
For more tips and advice on hay fever visit www.allergyuk.org
13 April 2016