It's officially Hayfever Season, and for many of us, that means a lot of unwanted sneezing and coughing and itchy, watery eyes!
Hay fever symptoms usually present themselves between late March and September, especially when it's warm, humid and windy and this is when the pollen count is at its highest. We answer your questions around hayfever and what treatments are available to help ease those lingering symptoms.
What is hay fever?
Hay fever is an allergic condition which spoils the Spring and Summer for many people. It is an allergy to pollen that causes the symptoms of a runny, itchy and often blocked nose, sneezing and itching watering eyes. It can also cause an itchy throat. What a lot of people don't appreciate is that it is not just hay but many other grass, tree or flower pollens which cause this condition.
What is pollen?
Pollen is the fine dust produced by plants to fertilise other plants and is carried through the air in the Spring and Summer. It is a protein, and many people react badly to it when they inhale it into their upper airways. The lining of the nose, upper airway/throat and eyes produces histamine in response to the pollen(s). This causes inflammation of these linings and the swelling, congestion, itching and production of mucous is directly as a result of histamine being released. It is for this reason that Anti histamines are the first line of treatment for this condition. They are supposed to neutralise or dampen the natural response of the body and therefore relieve the symptoms. They are effective, but do work better for some people more than others.
How many people are affected by hay fever?
Hay fever is one of the most common allergies in the UK, affecting around 13 million people. It is more common in people with other allergic conditions like asthma and eczema, and it does tend to run in families. You can get it at ang age, however it usually starts when you are quite young.
The suffering (morbidity) cannot be underestimated. It can affect people both day and night, although day time symptoms are more common, and work and school are often impacted by this condition.
Can I be tested for hay fever?
There isn't a blood test for Hay fever as such, but, in very allergic people, testing with various allergens can be undertaken in an attempt to best manage the condition. This is not commonly done however and the diagnosis is generally made by a Doctor or nurse who takes a history and confirms the clinical findings and history match up with the diagnosis.
What treatments are available?
Treatments are wide and varied, with many being tried and tested by good clinical research, and others that people swear by but have no clinical evidence to back them. Attempts at avoiding the Allergens are usually rather futile as it is almost impossible to avoid pollen(s) in the spring and summer but it is clearly important to avoid things like cutting the grass if you are a sufferer. At the core of treatment is an antihistamine drug. They usually are used every day from early spring until late summer. They come as tablets, liquid medicine, nasal drops and sprays, and eye drops. Steroids may also be used in the form of nose drops and sprays and eye drops, and for many years some people have depended on an injection of steroids.
Oral steroids are occasionally used in serious sufferers, but only for a short course of about 5 days and only where benefits outweigh the risks of side effects and harm from continued steroid use.
Salt water washouts of the nose and eyes also seem to help the symptoms to a degree.
The antihistamine drops and sprays may take some time to build up their effect, but the tablets and medicines usually work within hours of being taken. It is worth persevering with any of the treatments for a period of time before trying something different.
One final treatment option is desensitisation treatments with small quantities of the allergen being injected into the patient. Homeopathy is based on a similar idea only it uses tiny quantities of the allergen diluted in liquid and taken orally.
In summary, this chronic and recurring condition causes suffering and misery to many, but there are many and varied treatments available and these should be discussed with your Doctor, Nurse or Pharmacist.
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