What is Hay Fever?
Hay fever (seasonal allergic rhinitis) is an allergy to pollen. The pollen season separates into three main sections:
- Tree pollen – late March to mid-May.
- Grass pollen – mid-May to July.
- Weed pollen – end of June to September
To get the latest pollen forecast, view the Met Office weather map which provides a UK forecast of the pollen count and provides any hay fever sufferers with an early warning.
Who Gets Hay Fever?
Hay fever is very common. It affects about 2 in 10 people in the UK. It often first develops in school-age children and during the teenage years, but may start even later in life. Hay fever tends to run in families. You are also more likely to develop hay fever if you already have asthma or eczema. A tendency to these atopic illnesses can run in families.
Hay Fever Symptoms
- Common symptoms include sneezing, runny or blocked nose, itchy eyes, mouth and throat. Less common are headaches and hives.
- Asthma symptoms – such as wheeze and breathlessness, may get worse if you already have asthma. Some people have asthma symptoms only during the hay fever season.
- The symptoms may be so bad in some people that they can affect sleep, interfere with school and examinations, or interfere with work.
Hay Fever Prevention
Although it is very difficult to avoid exposure to pollen, there are a number of measures you can take that will help you to minimise exposure and ease the severity of your hay fever symptoms. Following these steps may help provide some relief from your symptoms:
- Keep windows closed when at home and overnight. Most pollen is released in the early morning and falls to ground level in the evenings when the air cools.
- When outdoors, wear sunglasses to keep pollen out of your eyes. For any outdoor tasks, such as gardening, hay fever sufferers should wear a mask.
- Avoid drying clothes outside when pollen counts are high. If you do, shake items before bringing them inside.
- Keep car windows closed when driving and fit a pollen filter to reduce the impact of pollen spores.
- When indoors: vacuum regularly, avoid bringing fresh flowers indoors, and be aware that pets can bring pollen in on their fur.
- Don’t allow smoking in the house as this will irritate the lining of your nose, eyes, throat and airways, making your hay fever symptoms worse.
- After being outside, shower and wash your hair to remove pollen.
Hay fever sufferers can benefit from a wide range of medication which can be prescribed by your GP, or alternatively purchased over the counter from your local pharmacy.
Your GP or hospital consultant can help you find the most appropriate treatment for you especially if you also have asthma and other allergies. Treatments include antihistamine tablets or nasal sprays, corticosteroid nasal sprays and drops, nasal decongestants, eye drops, immunotherapy, and alternative therapies.
Treatment for Severe Symptoms
Rarely, a short course of steroid tablets is prescribed for a week or so. For example, for students sitting examinations, A short course is usually safe. However, you should not take steroid tablets for long periods to treat hay fever, as serious side-effects may develop.
Dr Harsha Kariyawasam, Consultant Allergist at the Royal ENT Hospital says, “‘The most important step that an individual with allergic rhinitis should do is to have an accurate diagnosis. The exact allergen provoking symptoms should be identified. Where possible, allergen avoidance measures should be instigated. Treatment with medication, introduced in a step wise manner should also be undertaken. We are getting very good treating allergic rhinitis and there are several effective new treatments available. Allergy desentisation by a trained allergist is possible and there are several exciting vaccines either in practice or in development. Everyone deserves to enjoy spring and summer!”.