What is hay fever?
Hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, is the body’s allergic response to pollen affecting the eyes, nose, mouth and throat, and causing cold-like symptoms.
It’s triggered by coming into contact with pollen and fungal spores in the air from plants, including grass, trees, and flowers.
Affecting anyone at any stage of life there is no cure for hay fever, but symptoms can be managed to reduce the impact they can have on everyday life.
Hay fever is usually worse between late March and September, especially when it's warm, humid and windy. This is when the pollen count is at its highest.
The common symptoms of hay fever
Symptom severity will vary greatly between individuals, and can be influenced by other factors, such as lifestyle (e.g. whether you work indoors or outdoors), where you live, and significantly the weather.
Common symptoms include:
- Blocked nose – resulting in your nose feeling both blocked and runny at the same time.
- Cough – caused by postnasal drip from increased mucus production, tickling the throat.
- Itchy, sore eyes – upon contact with pollen your eyes become red and inflamed and can start watering to remove the irritation.
- Rash – direct contact of pollen with skin can cause the skin to become itchy, red and inflamed. It may also cause blotchy red patches or eruptions on the skin. These look more like welts rather than bumps and can appear raised or swollen.
- Wheezing – unless you have other underlying health conditions or illness, such as Asthma, you’re unlikely to experience this. Asthma sufferers should speak to their doctor to see if a preventer inhaler is suitable to reduce sensitivity and swelling in the airways.
The ‘science bit’!
When pollen enters your nose, mouth or eyes, you don’t get an immediate symptomatic response. However, once your body's antibodies on the surface of white blood cells, trigger an allergic response they release compounds, such as histamines. These compounds are a self-defence mechanism to the 'invading' allergen and trigger the early symptoms of hay fever.
After this, white blood cells flood the affected area, causing the irritation and inflammation that lead to congestion.
Over the next 6-12 hours, this inflammation leads to the release of more histamine compound and symptoms worsen resulting in itchy, runny nose, eye irritation, sneezing, coughing and congestion.
How to minimise symptoms
If you suffer with hay fever, sometimes it feels like your only way to get through it is to lock yourself indoors all summer! Well, there are some simple steps you can take to reduce your exposure to pollen and symptoms:
- Wear wrap-around sunglasses
- Dab a thin layer of petroleum jelly around your nostrils
- Reduce time spent outside when pollen count is high
- Shower and change your clothes after being outside
- Keep house windows and doors shut (especially at night)
- Dust with a damp cloth and vacuum regularly
- Avoid drying clothes outside when count is high or cutting grass
- Don't keep fresh flowers in the house
- Avoid walking in grassy, open places, especially early morning and early evening
- Monitor pollen levels and avoid going outdoors when levels are Medium or High
How to treat hay fever
You don’t have to suffer in silence! There are many over the counter and prescription treatments for hay fever, including eye drops, nasal sprays and antihistamine tablets, that help to ease symptoms and relieve irritation in the eyes, nose, mouth and throat.
- Antihistamine tablets such as Telfast (prescription), Piriton, Loratadine and Chlorphenamine (over the counter), can be taken daily to block your body’s reaction to pollen, easing and preventing a broad range of symptoms, with minimal side effects.
- Nasal sprays provide fast, effective relief for nasal symptoms of sneezing, blocked or runny nose, by being applied directly to the area where needed. They come in two types; antihistamine, like Rhinolast (over the counter), or more commonly steroid, such as Benacort, Beconase and Pirinase (over the counter), or Avamys and Flixonase (prescription). Dymista (prescription) is a combination of both for dual relief.
- Eye drops like Opticrom (over the counter) and Optilast (Prescription), are designed to provide quick relief for those suffering with puffy, watery, itchy, sore or red eyes, and can be used up to four times a day. All eye drops can be used in combination with hay fever tablets and nasal sprays to help fully control symptoms.
Hay Fever Survival Guide
Why not download our handy ‘Hay Fever Survival Guide’ infographic - you can print it out, bookmark it on your phone or share it with others.