Hay fever, medically known as allergic rhinitis, is an allergy to pollen which usually occurs between Spring and Autumn (seasonal allergic rhinitis), though can also occur all year round (perennial allergic rhinitis). 95% of hay fever sufferers are allergic to grass pollen, but some people are allergic to pollen emanating from trees or weeds. It's a common misconception that hay fever is caused by flower pollen, which is denser and not carried by the wind.
Hay fever occurs because the body's immune system sees particles of pollen as a harmful infection. In response, the body launches a chemical called histamine to fight the foreign body. This chemical is the agent which causes the common symptoms of hay fever including:
After initial exposure, symptoms may progress to include:
People who have asthma may be more sensitive to the effects of hay fever, and may need to increase the use of their inhalers. This is because histamine can cause smooth muscle, which surrounds the airways, to constrict and tighten, restricting a person's ability to breath.
Hay fever symptoms typically occur from early Spring through early Autumn. Different trees, weeds and grasses release pollen at slightly different times every year. The pollen count is usually the highest on warmer, drier days.
While there is currently no cure for hay fever, there are a number of treatments which can treat or prevent hay fever symptoms. Such treatments include nasal sprays, antihistamine tablets and, in more serious cases, immunotherapy, which involves regular injections administered by a healthcare professional. However, there are a number of simple things you can do to minimise your pollen exposure and prevent your symptoms from occurring.
Pollen count is an index which determines the amount of pollen in the air. The pollen count is usually included as part of your local weather forecast, though the national pollen levels can also be found online or through weather forecast apps for your smartphone.
While the pollen count is high, keep the doors and windows of your home and car closed to keep out pollen. You may also adjust your air conditioner setting to recirculate air, rather than draw in pollen-filled outside air.
Pollen counts are highest between 5 am and 10 am. As pollen is carried on the wind, it is most likely to be the highest on warm, dry, windy days. Stay indoors or limit outdoor time during those times, if possible. The pollen count drops after rainy spells, as the water washes the particles of pollen out of the air.
During the night, when the pollen count is lower, you can open your bedroom window to allow cool air to circulate. Not only can this prevent symptoms from exacerbating during the night, but it also provides an optimal sleeping environment.
Lingering pollen particles can stick to the fibres of your hair and clothing, causing you to inadvertently spread pollen into your home. Wash your clothes as often as possible, especially after being exposed to high pollen count. Don't hang dry your clothes outside, or they'll be covered in pollen.
Wear wraparound sunglasses when outdoors can help keep pollen out of your eyes. Pollen in your eyes makes them itch and water. Some wraparound sunglasses have removable gaskets which trap pollen and block wind to keep eyes moisturised. Wearing a sun hat or baseball cap can also prevent pollen from getting into your eyes.
Vaseline, also known as petroleum jelly, can be used to trap pollen before it can get up and into your nostrils, preventing symptoms from developing. Rub a small amount of Vaseline above your lip and around the opening of your nostrils for the best effect.
There are also nasal allergy balms, such as Vicks Inhaler Stick, that are available from your pharmacist which work similarly.
Most pharmacies have antihistamines and special nasal sprays, such as Beconase, to treat or prevent hay fever.
Antihistamines block the body's ability to launch a defensive response to pollen particles, while nasal sprays can prevent nasal passages from becoming inflamed due to pollen exposure. With maintained regular use, these medicines can reduce the development and duration of your symptoms.
For relief from itching and watery eyes (allergic conjunctivitis), there are a selection of eye drops available from pharmacies. These help to reduce and prevent inflammation in the eyes brought on from hay fever. Prescription Doctor offers Murine Hayfever Relief and Optrex Hayfever relief eye drops. These can be used alongside other hay fever treatments, such as antihistamine tablets and nasal sprays.
If you still suffer from symptoms while using over-the-counter hay fever medicines, contact your GP. They may be able to offer alternative treatments for your symptoms, including immunotherapy or prescription-strength medication. If you find your asthma symptoms flare up during hay fever season, you can speak to your asthma nurse about advice.
Preventing hay fever altogether can only happen if you stay indoors. This is often not an option since most people need to get out of the house to go to work, shop or exercise. In the morning, check the pollen count and take appropriate steps to minimise your exposure to pollen and prevent allergic symptoms from arising. Consult with your pharmacist to find out which hay fever medicines would be most suitable for your needs.