Health Advice: Hay Fever
Hay fever is a common allergic condition that affects up to one in five people at some point in their life. It is more common if there is a family history of allergies, asthma or eczema. Symptoms are usually worse during the summer months when pollen counts are highest (seasonal allergic rhinitis). Some people have symptoms all year round and this is often due to allergies to dust or animal dander (allergic rhinitis).
The symptoms of hay fever include:
- frequent sneezing
- runny or blocked nose
- itchy, red or watery eyes (also known as allergic conjunctivitis)
- an itchy throat, mouth, nose and ears
- cough, caused by postnasal drip (mucus dripping down the throat from the back of the nose)
Less commonly, you may experience:
- the loss of your sense of smell
- facial pain (caused by blocked sinuses)
- tiredness and fatigue
Symptoms can vary depending on your sensitivity to pollen and the pollen count. If you are an asthma sufferer, your asthma symptoms may get worse when you have hay fever.
Hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen released from plants, trees and weeds or spores released from fungi and moulds. When these tiny particles come into contact with the cells that line your mouth, nose, eyes and throat, they cause irritation. This results in the release of histamine which causes the symptoms of an allergic reaction. Different trees and plants produce their pollen at different times of the year.
Depending on which pollen you are allergic to, you may experience your hay fever symptoms at different times:
- January – April: tree pollen
- May – August: grass pollen
- August – October: weed pollen, fungal and mould spores
Most people's symptoms can be controlled using over-the-counter medication available from Feely's totalhealth Pharmacy.
Antihistamines e.g. Cetirizine, Loratadine
- These are available over-the-counter in tablet or liquid form and can be used in children from two years of age.
- They are generally taken once a day and most are non-drowsy.
- They block the action of histamine, preventing symptoms.
- Antihistamines are usually effective at treating itching, sneezing and watery eyes, but they may not help with clearing a blocked nose.
Corticosteroid nasal sprays e.g. Beconase, Flixonase
- A number of corticosteroid nasal sprays are available over-the-counter in Feely's totalhealth Pharmacy.
- Corticosteroid nasal sprays reduce the inflammation in your nose and sinuses caused by pollen.
- They are more effective than antihistamines at preventing and relieving nasal symptoms, including sneezing and congestion.
- They can also relieve itchy, watery eyes.
- It can take a number of days for their effect to take place and they are most effective if you start using them before your symptoms begin and continue to use them daily during the hay fever season.
- If the over-the-counter sprays are not fully effective in relieving your hayfever symptoms, your doctor can prescribe different products that can be more effective.
Antihistamine eye drops e.g. Opticrom
- These are available over-the-counter to help treat and prevent red, itchy, watery eyes (allergic conjunctivitis).
Nasal decongestants e.g. Otrivine, Sudafed
- These are available over-the-counter and help to relieve the blocked nose often caused by hay fever by reducing the swelling of the blood vessels in your nose.
- These products should not be used for longer than seven days, as prolonged use can make congestion worse (rebound congestion).
- They can be used together with corticosteroid nasal sprays to manage symptoms for the first week.
Drug free nasal sprays e.g. Prevalin
- These contain a liquid gel that coats the inside of the nostrils.
- This gel traps pollen in the nostril and prevents it causing an allergic reaction.
- They can be used by all patients from six years of age onwards.
Many people will use a combination of treatments to control their hay fever symptoms.
Feely's totalhealth Pharmacists Advice
The best way to control hay fever is to avoid your exposure to pollen. It is very difficult to avoid pollen completely. However there are a number of tips to reduce your exposure to pollen:
- Check the weather forecast for the pollen count and try to stay indoors when the pollen count is high (over 50).
- Keep windows and doors closed in the house and car.
- Vacuum regularly using a machine with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter.
- Dust with a damp cloth to collect dust and pollen and prevent it being spread around.
- Avoid drying clothes outside.
- Avoid cutting grass and grassy areas.
- Wear wraparound sunglasses to stop pollen getting into your eyes.
- Change your clothes and take a shower after being outside.