Hay Fever: What You Need to Know
Summer is officially on the way, and with it the promise of beer gardens, barbecues and… blowing our noses. According to the NHS, around 10 million Brits suffer from hay fever and, though it doesn’t pose a serious health threat, it can be extremely disruptive to our everyday lives.
The question most hay fever sufferers find themselves asking is "why me?" Known risk factors include a family history of hay fever, and having other allergies. But if recent research is anything to go by, hay fever could also be closely related to month of birth. Researchers found that babies born in the autumn and winter were more likely to develop asthma, hay fever and food allergies than those born in the spring and summer.
The good news is that – no matter when they were born – lots of people find their symptoms improving as they get older, and in some cases disappearing altogether. And for those who still find themselves in the pollen firing line every summer, there are many ways to make life easier.
What causes hay fever?
Hay fever is caused by an allergy to pollen, which is released from plants during their reproductive cycle. The pollen gets into your eyes, mouth, nose and throat when you go outside, and causes an allergic reaction.
There are three types of pollen that can cause hay fever: tree, grass and weed. Tree pollen is released during spring, grass pollen is released during spring and the beginning of summer, and weed pollen is released during autumn. Around 90% of people in the UK who suffer from hay fever are allergic to grass pollen, while around 25% are allergic to tree pollen. An allergy to weed pollen is less common.
Though spring and summer are the worst times of year for hay fever, sufferers should find that their symptoms vary from day to day depending upon the pollen count. The pollen count records how much pollen is in the air, and the higher it is, the worse symptoms will be. It is also affected by the weather; on warm, humid, windy days the pollen count will be higher.
You can check the pollen count for the UK here.
What are the symptoms of hay fever?
Hay fever affects the eyes, nose, ears and throat. The classic symptoms are sneezing, a runny or blocked nose, itchy or watery eyes, itchiness in the nose, ears or throat, and coughing. Some people also experience pain in the sinuses, headache, earache and a general feeling of tiredness.
If you suffer from asthma, you might find that a flare up of hay fever causes your asthma symptoms to get worse.
How is hay fever treated?
Hay fever does not normally require medical attention, as it can be easily treated and managed at home.
Antihistamines are the most common treatment for hay fever. They are a type of medicine taken to treat mild allergic reactions, and are very effective at easing itchiness, sneezing, and watery eyes. They are available over the counter from pharmacies in tablet form, and also as droplets or sprays. You can take antihistamines to treat existing symptoms, or to prevent yourself from developing symptoms. Other over-the-counter treatments include nasal decongestants and eye drops.
If you find that over-the-counter treatments are not working, you can visit your GP or a trusted online health service such as The Online Clinic. Doctors can prescribe stronger antihistamines, corticosteroids, prescription nasal decongestants, and – immunotherapy – but this needs to be commenced well in advance of the hay fever season. If your hay fever leads to sinusitis (inflammation of the sinuses) or an ear infection, you may require antibiotics.
At The Online Clinic, you can order a range of effective antihistamine tablets, nasal sprays and eye drops using our safe and secure private prescription service. Click here to receive a hay fever consultation.
How can I avoid the symptoms of hay fever?
Unfortunately it is not always possible to avoid the symptoms of hay fever. However, taking a few simple precautions can help you manage your condition. Keep track of the pollen count during the months you are affected, and if it is particularly high, take antihistamines before you leave the house, and wear sunglasses to protect your eyes.
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