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  • Handling Hay Fever

    The months between March and September can be difficult for those of us living with hay fever.

    Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK (about 16 million) live with hay fever, also known as seasonal allergic rhinitis. In addition, sufferers may be up to four times more likely to suffer from other allergy-related conditions, including asthma, food allergy and eczema. (1)

    While the number is increasing and has thought to have trebled over the last 30 years, (1) hay fever remains an under-recognised, poorly-managed condition.

    Read on for our insights on how best to protect yourself in these spring and summer months.

    What is hay fever?

    Hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen when it comes into contact with your eyes, nose, throat or mouth. (2) There are different types of pollen that we can be allergic to. The three main types of pollen are:

    • Tree pollen
    • Grass pollen
    • Weed pollen

    Hence, the pollen season can affect people during the entire spring and summer seasons – often tree pollen in the spring, grass pollen from June to July, and weed pollen in the late summer and autumn.

    It can be helpful to know which pollen you are allergic to or most affected by, so you can plan when the season arrives to optimise your quality of life. You can track the pollen counts near you using this pollen tracker.

    There is no cure for hay fever, and it is not preventable. However, you can manage your symptoms using a variety of methods, including medication.

    What are the symptoms of hay fever?

    When our body comes into contact with pollen, we try to expel it from our body’s entry passages, where it may cause irritation and discomfort. This is why the symptoms you may experience could include:

    • A runny or blocked nose
    • A fever
    • Sneezing or coughing
    • Itchy, red or watering eyes
    • An itchy throat, mouth, nose or ears
    • Losing your sense of smell
    • Pain in the temples and forehead
    • Headaches and earaches
    • Fatigue and tiredness

    If you also have asthma, you may also experience:

    • a tight feeling in your chest
    • shortness of breath
    • wheezing and coughing

    Symptoms can vary according to the specific pollen allergy we have, but if you suddenly notice these symptoms during these months and outdoor exposure, it is likely you have hay fever, and a test or diagnosis is not needed. Hay fever does not pass within 1-2 weeks like a cold or flu-like illness; it will persist for weeks or months. (2)

    If your signs are less clear and more chronic, it may be worth taking a more specific test such as an IgE test via blood or skin-prick testing as there may be a different underlying cause of your symptoms.

    Can I catch hay fever?

    You cannot ‘catch’ hay fever as it is an allergy as opposed to something spread by bacteria, fungi or viruses. However, it is vital to note that hay fever can develop at any age. It most often surfaces during childhood or adolescence and is more common in boys than girls but affects all genders equally in adulthood. (3)

    As mentioned previously, you are more likely to develop hay fever if you have a family history of allergies, including asthma and eczema, as the three can be closely interlinked. (3)

    What can I do to alleviate symptoms?

    An intranasal steroid spray can be very effective for reducing hay fever symptoms, and it is sensible to begin using this every day for a few weeks before the hay fever season begins.

    Antihistamines taken as required over the counter, such as ones containing cetirizine hydrochloride or chlorphenamine maleate, can be effective against symptoms. These medications work on people differently, so it may be worth trying multiple if one does not show improvement.

    You may want to avoid taking a sedating antihistamine, as driving, academic or working ability may be impaired by them, even if you do not feel sleepy. (2)

    You may also want to:

    • stay indoors when possible
    • keep windows and doors shut
    • apply Vaseline or a balm to your nostrils to trap pollen and prevent entry up the nasal passage
    • shower and change after going outside to remove pollen residue
    • dust regularly and keep indoor spaces clean, using a damp cloth
    • buy a pollen filter for your car and vacuum cleaner
    • avoid keeping fresh flowers in the house
    • avoid smoking as it can worsen symptoms
    • avoid drying clothes outside as they may catch pollen
    • avoid contact with pets, especially if they have been outdoors

    Keep in mind that pollen counts will be higher on a warmer, sunnier day compared to a colder or rainy day. (2)

    What can we offer you?

    If you feel as though over-the-counter medication is not working effectively for you, and your quality of life is still compromised, why not enquire about our in-store specialist prescribing service?

    You can read more about our hay fever treatment here and fill in our online form to be reviewed.

    Your local Kamsons Pharmacy would be happy to offer you free and informative advice – so enquire today.

    1. Natasha Allergy Research Foundation., The Allergy Explosion: Allergy Statistics – The Most Common Disease. Available at: https://www.narf.org.uk/the-allergy-explosion
    2. NHS England., ‘Hay fever’ 4th February 2021. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hay-fever/
    3. NHS Inform., ‘Hay fever’ 13th November 2020. Available at: https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/immune-system/hay-fever