To most people, summer means picnics in the park and long country walks – to the less fortunate, it means runny noses and swollen eyes.
However, hay fever doesn’t have to ruin your sunny months. We’ve put together a handbook to help you cope when the pollen’s high.
What is hay fever?
Hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen.
When you come into contact with the tiny powdery particles, your body can think they’re a threat and trigger an allergic reaction.
Your immune system overreacts and releases a chemical called histamine, which inflames the lining of your nasal passage, sinuses and eyelids.
Your body then tries to get rid of the allergen – which is why your eyes water and you start sneezing.
Did you know that up to one in five people suffer from hay fever at some point in their life?
What is the pollen count?
You might hear the weatherwoman say ‘the pollen count is high today’ and not have a clue what it means. To put it simply, the pollen count is the number of grains of pollen in one cubic metre of air.
To measure this, traps are set up on buildings to suck in air and catch pollen on sticky tape. The samples are gathered and counted every couple of hours to get a daily average.
The pollen forecast is normally given on the following scale:
Low – less than 30 grains of pollen in every cubic metre of air
Moderate – 30 to 49 grains of pollen in every cubic metre of air
High – 50 to 149 grains of pollen in every cubic metre of air
Very high – 150 or more grains of pollen in every cubic metre of air
Hay fever symptoms normally only start once the pollen count is over 50. The higher the pollen count, the worse your symptoms will be.
Typically, if we have a mild winter the pollen count is higher. If the summer is wet the pollen count is usually lower - but lightning storms can break down the pollen into smaller particles, leading to acute hay fever outbreaks.
What are the types of pollen?
There are three main types of pollen:
Birch, alder and hazel trees are your enemy if you’re allergic to tree pollen. If you suffer from February until the end of May, chances are tree pollen is the culprit.
Grass pollen usually starts from the end of May and hangs around until the end of August.
Those allergic to weed pollen often suffer from June to September.
Unfortunately, if you’re allergic to all types of pollen then hay fever will probably stick around for most of the year.
What are the hay fever symptoms?
There are a few hay fever symptoms, including:
- Frequent sneezing
- Itchy, red or watery eyes
- A runny or blocked nose
- An itchy throat, mouth, nose and ears
- A cough
Although these symptoms are less common, you may also experience:
- Tiredness and fatigue
- A headache
- The loss of your sense of smell
- Facial pain (caused by blocked sinuses)
- An earache
What treatment is available for hay fever?
Before booking a trip to your doctor, head to the pharmacy. Chances are, the pharmacist will recommend you an antihistamine.
Antihistamines block the release of histamine, which then prevent the symptoms of the allergic reaction – meaning your nose will stop running and your eyes will stop itching.
Antihistamines can be taken as tablets, nasal sprays or eye drops as a preventative treatment or when required.
What’s more, times have moved on and unlike old antihistamines that would often cause drowsiness, the newer types should leave you feeling fine.
You can also look at corticosteroid nasal sprays and drops, which work effectively at treating hay fever because of their anti-inflammatory effect.
If your symptoms are still causing you daily discomfort, and none of the standard treatment options offer any relief, then your GP may recommend immunotherapy treatment. This treatment gradually introduces you to small amounts of the substance you’re allergic to (in this case pollen) over an extended period of time. For this, you must be monitored closely in a controlled environment.
Lightning storms can break down pollen into smaller particles, leading to acute hay fever outbreaks
What else can you do to combat hay fever?
You can try the things listed below to relieve some of your symptoms:
- Spend more time at the coast. The sea breeze can blow pollen inland, which is why rural areas can be worse for hay fever sufferers.
- Your pets can carry pollen in their fur; so don’t let them too close to your face.
- Wear a cap – the peak can stop pollen reaching your eyes.
- Don't let your clothes dry on the washing line when the pollen count is high.
- Grab a good air filter. If your allergies are bad indoors, a good air filter can trap small particles.
- If the pollen is high, wash your hair and change your clothes when you get home.
- Don’t mow the lawn unless you have to, especially if you’re allergic to grass pollen.
Sometimes it can seem like hay fever never lets up. It can feel like your eyes are constantly swollen and your nose is relentlessly itchy – but now you understand it a bit better, perhaps you can stop pollen getting in the way of a fun-filled summer outdoors.