Ah, Springtime! The sunny, long days have returned, the winter coats have been packed away, and we’re all excited for the summer months ahead. Barbecues, holidays and Aperol spritz. It’s a good time of year. However, it’s not all sunshine and daises for the millions of allergy sufferers in the UK, who spend these months plagued with itching eyes and a runny nose.
In the last month or so there’s been a predicable influx of patients attending my practice with allergic type of symptoms, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to talk a little about hay fever, what it is, and how you can treat it yourself.
So, here’s how to beat hay fever:
WHAT IS HAYFEVER?
As we approach the summer months, many plants including trees, grasses and flowers produce pollen, a fine powder which is used to fertilise surrounding plants. The most common allergy is to grass pollen which is abundant in May and June, whereas, tree pollens tend to be around a little earlier.
If you’re allergic to these pollens, your immune system produces a substance called histamine, which in turn acts on nerve endings and blood vessels causing symptoms such as itching, sneezing, discharge from the nose and nasal congestion. If you’re asthmatic, hayfever may well make your asthma worse, and if you have hayfever you’re more at risk of developing asthma too.
Around 30% of the population are affected by hayfever each year, more commonly kids and teenagers. If these symptoms are mild they may not bother you too much, but for some, they can really effect their enjoyment of the summer months, impacting their home, work and social life.
Furthermore, if poorly controlled, it’s shown to effect sleep and learning potential, so it’s definitely worth treating, especially as hayfever comes around exam season!
HOW IS IT DIAGNOSED?
A doctor can generally diagnose hayfever from the symptoms you describe. Sometimes, people enquire about allergy testing, but it’s only really necessary if the diagnosis is unclear, or if the symptoms are extremely severe or hard to control. After all, telling you that you’re allergic to agropyron repens is not going to be of much use to you on a daily basis. Pollen is everywhere, it’s not visible with the human eye, so unfortunately, it can be hard to avoid a particular pollen, even if you know you’re allergic to it.
HOW TO AVOID POLLEN:
That said, there are things you can do to reduce your exposure to pollen and it’s hayfever effects:
- The weather forecast often provides a pollen count during the summer months. Keep an eye on this and stay indoors on days when the pollen count is high. Water washes pollen from the air, so it should be lower on cooler, wet days.
- If you do go out on a high pollen day, wash your hair and change your clothes when you get home
- Keep windows closed when you’re indoors, especially in the early mornings and evenings, as this is when the pollen is most active.
- Avoid drying clothes on a washing line when the pollen count is high.
- Avoid cutting the grass (a good excuse!), areas with long grass and camping
- Wear wrap around sunglasses (please let me know if you find some attractive ones!) and wear a hat with a large brim to keep pollen out of your eyes.
- Keep the car windows closed when driving. You can also buy a pollen filter for the air vents in your car.
COMMON HAYFEVER TREATMENTS:
If you’re suffering from hayfever symptoms, there are plenty of treatments available, many of which are available over the counter. If you’re taking the over the counter medication regularly and it’s not working then speak to your pharmacist or a GP, as you may need to try something else.
Antihistamines work on the histamine produced by your immune system which cause the common symptoms such as sneezing and a runny nose. They come in various forms, including nasal sprays, eye drops and tablets. If you just have nasal symptoms, it’s probably best to start with the nasal spray, but if you’re having other symptoms such as a itchy eyes, a tablet may be better. Some of the tablets can make you sleepy, so check with the chemist which ones are best for you, or take them at night time.
STEROID NASAL SPRAY
If the antihistamines aren’t doing the job, you can buy a steroid nasal spray over the counter too. They can take a few weeks to see the full effect, but if you know that you get severe symptoms for most of the summer, it may be worth it.
There are some antihistamines that are only available on prescription which we usually give if you haven’t responded to over the counter treatments. Very rarely a short course of oral steroids are needed to get the hayfever in check, so if you’re struggling, please see your GP for help!
ALLERGY AWARENESS WEEK
Last week was allergy awareness week, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to educate you on more serious allergic reactions. Allergy UK, cite that 44% of people don’t know what the life threatening condition called anaphylaxis is, or how to recognise it.
Anaphylaxis is a severe allergic reaction which can cause swelling of the lips and tongue, breathing problems, collapse and loss of consciousness, ultimately leading to death in the worse case scenario.
Allergy UK is calling on people to ‘recognise the symptoms, recognise the FEAR’:
- Face – is their face/are their lips swollen? Have they gone pale? Are they lightheaded?
- Eyes – is there a look of fear in their eyes? Are they red, watery and puffy?
- Airways – are they wheezing/uncontrollably coughing? Do they have a shortness of breath? Are they unable to talk? Are they making a strange sound?
- Rash – is there a red, raised, itchy rash anywhere on their body especially their face or neck?
If someone is a known severe anaphylaxis sufferer, they’ll likely carry an epipen which is a special pen which contains adrenaline. If they have any of these symptoms, inject the pen into their left outer thigh and call an ambulance. If after 5 minutes they haven’t responded, then do it again. It’s really as easy as it sounds, and can save a life!
THAT’S ALL FOR NOW!