Hay fever affects up to one in five people at some point in their lifetime but not many people actually know what it is and what they can do about it. You can get hay fever at any age, although it usually begins in the early years of childhood. You are also more likely to develop it if you have a family history of allergies, particularly asthma or eczema. So what exactly is hay fever?
Hay fever is a common allergic condition presenting symptoms such as sneezing, a runny nose and itchy eyes. You will only develop hay fever if you have an allergic reaction to pollen. Pollen is a fine powder released by plants as part of their reproductive cycle. It contains proteins that can cause the nose, eyes, throat and sinuses (small air-filled cavities behind your cheekbones and forehead) to become swollen, irritated and inflamed.
Many people suffering with hay fever will know that it does not last throughout the year, it generally comes in bouts at a specific time of the year. This is because different people are allergic to different types of pollen, which are released during different seasons. Your hay fever symptoms will depend on the type of pollen you are allergic to.
The most common types of pollen and their seasons are listed below.
· tree pollen, released during spring
· grass pollen, released during the end of spring and beginning of summer
· weed pollen, released late autumn
Unfortunately, there is no cure for hay fever however, like all allergic reactions; there are treatments available to relieve symptoms. The usual approach to an allergy is to avoid the allergen however, this is not particularly easy when it comes to hay fever.
Hay fever is generally resolved using over the counter medication from your pharmacist. The most common treatment is the use of anti –histamines. There are many types of anti – histamines that are suitable for different people and their needs. Please ask you pharmacist or call our pharmacy team for more information on anti-histamines. Corticosteroids more commonly known as steroids, can also help reduce inflammation and swelling; currently, you can only purchase topical steroids for use in allergies. If over the counter medicines are not effective enough, it is possible to get prescription only medicines from your doctor, please discuss this with your GP.
For severe and persistent hay fever, there is also a type of treatment called immunotherapy. It involves being exposed to small amounts of pollen over time, to build resistance to its allergic effects. Your GP can provide you with more information on immunotherapy.
Tips from our pharmacist:
It is sometimes possible to prevent the symptoms of hay fever by taking some basic precautions, such as:
· Check the pollen count before you leave the house! The Met Office provides pollen forecast; the higher the amount of pollen in the air, the more severe your hay fever symptoms will be.
· Try to stay indoors when the pollen count is high and if you must go out, take an anti-histamine before you leave the house.
· Try not to open the windows and doors for prolonged periods to prevent pollen coming into the house.
· Take a shower and change your clothes after being outdoors to remove pollen from your body.
· Apply a small amount of Vaseline to nasal openings to trap pollens.
· Wear sunglasses when you are outdoors to prevent pollen entering your eyes, there are also wraparound sunglasses available.