Hay fever, or ‘Seasonal allergic rhinitis’ occurs when pollens trigger the release of antibodies in the nose, eyes or airways causing inflammation and irritation. A sufferer may experience a running itchy nose, sneezing, itchy watering eyes and blocked sinuses, which can lead to headaches. For some these symptoms are relatively minor and can be controlled with regular use of antihistamines, but for others they are so extreme that the hay fever season becomes a misery.
Studies have shown that hay fever does impact a person’s quality of life by disturbing sleep, hindering concentration and the ability to carry out tasks. It can cause people to miss school or work and has even been shown to affect children’s exam results. Occasionally symptoms can be made worse due to a link between some pollens (particularly tree pollens) and certain foods
People with hay fever may also develop asthma and vice versa. If an individual does have both it is important that the hay fever is well treated. If the hay fever is uncontrolled the asthma will be more unstable.
How hay fever is managed and treated depends upon its severity and often has a multi-faceted approach.
- - Where possible, exposure to pollens should be limited. Be mindful of days with high pollen counts and where your particular allergen comes from and avoid those areas if possible.
- - Keep your windows shut, particularly in the early morning and in the evening when there is likely to be more pollen in the air. Keep car windows closed when driving along roads with grassy banks.
- - Wear wrap-around sunglasses and a hat with a peak or wide brim to keep pollen away from your eyes and nose.
- - Use an allergen barrier gel or petroleum jelly around each nostril to catch pollen before it enters your nasal passages and wash your face regularly to get rid of any residual pollen on your face.
- - Avoid drying clothes outside on days with a high pollen count and if you are particularly sensitive, showering and changing clothes after being outside in high risk areas will reduce the pollen in your home.
- - On days with high pollen counts take a trip to the beach rather than the park as sea breezes blow pollen inland.
- - Pets will carry pollen on their fur, so don’t let them too close to your face or on the furniture at peak times.
There are many over-the-counter hay fever preventers and treatments and some will work better for you than others. They will come in the form of tablets, liquids and sprays and contain antihistamine and sometimes decongestant. There are different active ingredients in these preparations, so if one is not effective, try another. These treatments are usually very effective when you find what works for you. It is important to continue the use of this medication throughout your hay fever season and if possible start taking it a week or so before you expect symptoms to begin, if you know when that is. As with all medications, do not exceed the recommended dose.
If over-the-counter medications are not working your G.P. can prescribe other medications, often steroid based. They may take a blood test to confirm your hay fever. If you suffer from extreme hay fever which is not controlled by other means your G.P. may refer you to a specialist allergy clinic for immunotherapy (or desensitisation). In immunotherapy an increasing amount of the allergen is given in a controlled manner until a maintenance dose is achieved which is then taken for a period of time to help the body accept the pollen is non-threatening and stop the reaction to it.
Whatever the seriousness of your hay fever, there is help that will get it under control, so find out what will work for you and enjoy the summer!