Hay fever – not to be sniffed at
The days are getting longer and the sun is out – at least occasionally. But while most of us look forward to the first hint of summer, for 1 in 5 people that anticipation is tainted by the prospect of hay fever. But don’t despair – a little forward planning could make last season’s sneezes a distant memory.
Hay fever – what is it?
Hay fever is an allergy to pollen, most commonly grass pollen. Whenever the pollen you’re allergic to is in plentiful supply, your symptoms could emerge. If you’re allergic to grass pollen, you’ll be most affected from May to July; if tree pollen is the culprit, you’ll suffer from March to May and if weeds are to blame you may be affected throughout spring and summer.
What are the symptoms?
Hay fever affects the sensitive membranes it hits – mostly the delicate lining of the nose, inside the eyelids or the throat. Sometimes it can inflame your sinuses or irritate your lungs, causing asthma symptoms. Symptoms tend to come on every year at about the same time.
Common symptoms include:
- Itchy, blocked or runny nose
- Itchy, sore, watery eyes
- Itchy throat
Less common symptoms include:
- Pain over your sinuses
- Wheezing and shortness of breath.
Who gets it?
Anyone can get hay fever, but you’re much more likely to suffer if allergies – including asthma and eczema as well as hay fever – run in your family. It often starts in childhood or your teenage years, but fortunately may disappear after many years as mysteriously as it arrived.
What treatments are available?
Most treatments for hay fever are now available from your pharmacist without prescription, as well as your GP. They’re all very safe and include:
- Steroid or sodium cromoglycate nose spray (both need to be taken regularly and take several days to work – try starting them a few weeks before your symptoms usually begin)
- Eye drops designed for hay fever (they need to be taken regularly too)
- Antihistamine tablets
For severe symptoms, try a combination. Antihistamines can cause drowsiness, but some much less than others – ask your chemist or GP. Tablets may be best if your eyes, nose and throat are all affected, but they won’t solve a blocked nose – you’ll need a spray for that.
Other options, including a short course of steroid tablets and tablets under the tongue to ‘desensitize’ you to grass pollen, are reserved for really severe cases.
What if I don’t want medicines?
Lots of simple measures will help, especially if you combine them. When pollen counts are high:
- Wear wrap-around sunglasses
- Shut car windows and invest in a car pollen filter
- HayMax nasal balm (from supermarkets and chemists) can reduce pollen getting into your nose – it may help your eye symptoms too!
- Shower and wash your hair when you come inside
- Try a Qu-Chi acupressure band on your elbow (also from supermarkets and chemists)
Perennial rhinitis – when the sneezing doesn’t stop
Even if you’ve escaped hay fever, you can develop similar nose symptoms in your thirties or later – but these ones last all year! It’s thought to be due to allergy to the billions of house dust mites in all our houses. Nose sprays and anti-histamines will help, but so will a few changes to your home.
- Wipe surfaces with a clean damp cloth rather than just dusting
- When the carpet needs replacing, think about changing to wood or vinyl floor covering
- Wash duvets and blankets regularly, as well as sheets (ideally at 60 degrees C to kill off house dust mites)
- Swap feather pillows and wool blankets for synthetic versions
- Consider swapping curtains for blinds which can be wiped down with a damp cloth
- Don’t keep cushions (or fluffy toys!) in the bedroom
With thanks to 'My Weekly' magazine where this article was originally published.