Oh Hay Fever!

As summer soon approaches and the flowers are all in bloom, the majority of us will be enjoying picnics in the park. But for 26 percent of adults and 10-15 percent of children, sadly that is often a distant dream as they reach for tissues and tablets.

Allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever, is an allergy to pollen. The dreaded hay fever season can begin in March and end in September, but everyone may suffer at different times depending on which pollens you are allergic to. The majority of people are allergic to grass pollen which is at its most prevalent from mid May to July, but you can also be allergic to Tree Pollen, usually from late March to Mid-May, or Weed Pollen from the end of June to September.

The main symptoms of hay fever include a runny or congested nose, sneezing, tickly throat, headaches and itchy eyes. Whilst many of these symptoms are similar to the common cold, you can fairly swiftly self-diagnose hay fever when it doesn’t resolve within one to two weeks as a cold should. As it has such typical symptoms, it is very rare that you would need to have skin prick testing to formally diagnose hay fever. Whilst we consider hay fever to be a fairly benign condition, it can have detrimental effects on your quality of life, including reduced work productivity, reduced socialising, and poor sleep patterns. Indeed, the effects are even tangible in children, demonstrated by the results from the Education for Health, revealing that hay fever sufferers are 40 percent more likely to drop a grade from their mock exams in January to summer.

It can affect anyone at any age, but most commonly begins in adolescence/young adulthood. Trends however are suggesting that the number of sufferers are on the rise, and may even double by 2030. With the number of sufferers increasing it is frustrating to know there is no cure, but there are many self-help measures one can take to alleviate the symptoms. Simple considerations can help, like avoiding going out in the morning and the evening when pollen counts are at their highest, and ensuring windows and doors to the house remain closed to avoid pollen entering the home. Furthermore, regularly vacuuming and dusting surfaces with a damp cloth to pick up any pollen that has entered the house may improve your symptoms, and you can even invest in an air purifier to filter out the pollen particles.

Pollen can also remain on your clothes, so ensure that you change out of your outdoor clothes when you enter the house, shower and wash the clothes as soon as possible, but avoiding drying the laundry outdoors. In terms of preventing the pollen irritating your eyes and nose, wear wraparound sunglasses outdoors, and put petroleum jelly around your nostrils.

There are also plenty of medications that can help relieve the symptoms of hay fever. Oral antihistamines that you can buy over the counter may suffice if you have mild symptoms, however for most people monotherapy will not suffice, and they may also require steroid nasal sprays, antihistamine nasal sprays, and anti-inflammatory or antihistamine eye drops to help manage their symptoms. In fact, studies suggest that a spray called Dymista (a combination of both nasal steroid and nasal antihistamine) is the most effective dual therapy, over even oral antihistamines.
It is worth knowing that it can take up to 2-3 days for antihistamines to reach their full treatment potential, so not taking them daily throughout the hay fever season may mean that you are not receiving the full benefits of the antihistamine. In fact, nasal steroids can take up to 2 -3 weeks to reach their therapeutic optimum and as such it is ideal to therefore start them a few weeks before your hay fever symptoms even begin. However, that requires a little forward planning, and is where the benefits of pollen forecasts are highlighted. The met office offers a five-day pollen forecast for the UK, but there are also apps for your phone that can give longer 10-day forecasts. It is worth checking these forecasts daily to better prepare yourself for the day ahead.

For those with particularly severe hay fever despite treatment with the above, immunotherapy may be the best next step. This is where you slowly build up your immunity to pollen by injecting or ingesting a small amount of the pollen that you are allergic to. It is a process requiring several treatments and we therefore suggest you start it 3 months prior to the start of hay fever season. If all else fails, you may want to book yourself a little trip away. It has been shown that the pollution in a city can actually exacerbate your symptoms, so a frolic in the countryside may be exactly what the doctor ordered. Or a weekend away at the seaside may also help, as the breeze from the sea will tend to blow the pollen away.