As the weather improves and the days are getting longer, we are all looking forward to the summer - right? Well, maybe not! For one in five people, this time of year marks the start of runny and itchy eyes, a blocked nose, headaches and much more. Hay fever season is here, and in general practice we are seeing patients everyday who are out of sorts due to the condition. Symptoms make concentration difficult, and can disturb sleep and cause us to be irritable, leading to sick days at work, poor exam performance and looking on as our friends and colleagues enjoy the fine weather.
Hay fever is caused by an allergy to pollen. Common hay fever symptoms are a runny, itchy and/or blocked nose, sneezing and itchy eyes. Other symptoms sometimes include loss of smell, face pain, sweats and headache. People who have hay fever are more likely to also suffer from other conditions associated with allergy, like asthma and eczema. Patients with hay fever who experience breathlessness should visit a doctor immediately.
Hay fever usually occurs in spring and summer, when there is more pollen in the air. Trees, plants and grass release pollen as part of their reproductive process. People with hay fever can experience their symptoms at different times of the year, depending on which pollen or spores they are allergic to. A pollen count over 50 is considered high, and while you cannot avoid pollen completely you can decrease how much pollen you breathe in.
Five top tips to reduce the symptoms of hay fever:
Stay indoors as much as possible and keep windows and doors shut.
Avoid cutting grass, large grassy places, and camping.
Shower and wash your hair after being outdoors, especially after going to the countryside.
Keep car windows closed and consider buying a pollen filter for the air vents in your car. These should be changed at every service
Have your hay fever remedies close at hand and if you are going away from home bring them with you.
Hay fever cannot be cured completely, but there are a number of treatments available to relieve the symptoms. These include antihistamine tablets, nasal sprays and eye drops. There are also various steroid nasal sprays and drops available. Sometimes, saline nose rinses can be helpful. Rarely, in severe cases, your GP may prescribe steroid tablets. In the past, steroid injections were used during hay fever season, however, due to the side effects of these injections, they are no longer recommended. Some of these treatments are available over-the-counter in pharmacies, and your pharmacist is probably the first place to seek advice if you have hay fever symptoms.
In severe cases, referral to an immunologist may be necessary where a treatment called desensitisation may reduce symptoms. Although hay fever can cause some of us to be miserable during the summer, the good news is that for most people, as the years pass, it is a condition that tends to improve naturally.