THE warmer weather has arrived and for millions of people that means hay fever.
Recent downpours coupled with higher temperatures are now about to trigger a “pollen bomb”.
It comes as the grass season starts, peaking in June and July, the Met Office warns.
And this year, experts say, we are suffering more than ever after the Covid pandemic forced us indoors.
Dr Adrian Morris, of the Surrey Allergy Clinic, has seen a record number of people seeking help for itchy eyes and runny noses.
He says: “I’ve had an enormous amount of enquiries from people who are really struggling with symptoms and, often, over-the-counter treatments are not working.”
Dr Morris is also seeing more children, adding: “Usually, it starts in your teens, but I am seeing more children around the age of six with symptoms.”
Tips to beat hay fever on the go
- Wear a face mask and wraparound sunglasses to stop pollen getting in your face.
- Use Vaseline around your nose to trap pollen and stop it reaching the nasal passages.
- Keep car windows closed.
- Try a nasal douche or irrigation. Products such as Sterimar or Neilmed are great.
- Stay inside from 11am to 6pm if you can.
According to Allergy UK, 26 per cent of adults suffer from hay fever, caused by an allergy to plant pollen.
Margaret Kelman, a specialist nurse at the charity, explains: “It causes inflammation and irritation to the lining of the nose, eyes and throat.”
The trigger is usually grass or tree pollens, but it can also be set off by weeds or mould spores.
Margaret adds: “Hay fever can start in early spring and last through the summer to autumn.”
Lynsey Hope hears from some leading experts as they explain everything you need to know to survive the hay fever season.
Eat to beat it
APPLES, berries, grapes and tea all contain a plant compound that could fight hay fever.
Nutritionist Amanda Ursell says: “The standard treatment for hay fever is antihistamine, which deals with histamine once it is already released.
"The plant compound quercetin, found naturally in apples, berries, grapes, onions, broccoli and tea, can help to stop histamine being released in the first place.
"Eating these foods regularly and taking a quercetin supplement can be helpful.
“Foods rich in vitamin C such as fruit, pepper and green vegetables can also dampen down allergic rhinitis, which causes the coughing, wheezing and sneezing.
"Carrots, mangos and spinach, meanwhile, help us stock up on vitamin A, which keeps the linings of our nose, throat and lungs strong, to prevent pollen getting into our bloodstream.”
The essential fats found in oily fish could also reduce inflammation in the body.
Certain foods can trigger pollen food syndrome, which affects a minority of people and causes itching or swelling of the mouth. It happens as they contain similar proteins to those found in pollen.
Amanda adds: “The main trigger foods are apples, pears, cherries, peaches, plums, strawberries and kiwi. Some vegetables including carrots, celery, tomatoes and bean sprouts have the same effect, as do some nuts, specifically hazelnuts, almonds, Brazils and walnuts.
“If this is familiar, try cooked or tinned versions of these foods as cooking and heat destroys the protein that causes a reaction.”
Pollen proof your home
CONSTANTLY inhaling pollen while indoors will make your symptoms worse. Allergy UK’s Margaret Kelman shares her top tips for reducing pollen in the house:
- When you come in from outside, wipe your face and blow your nose.
- Change your clothes, have a shower and wash your hair when you get home.
- Wipe pets down with a damp cloth if they’ve been outside. They can carry pollen on their fur and paws.
- Keep windows closed, especially early in the morning and early in the evening when pollen counts are highest.
- Try to avoid drying your clothes outside.
- Avoid mowing the lawn or raking leaves yourself – delegate that task to someone else!
All the big questions answered – from face masks to sex
HOW can I tell if it’s hay fever?
“The fever is the key difference,” Dr Morris explains. “Although hay fever sounds as though it might come with a fever, it doesn’t.
“With coronavirus or a cold or flu, your temperature will often be raised. Hay fever won’t cause a headache, muscle pains or flu- like symptoms.
“Instead, you’ll suffer a lot of sneezing and itching — itchy eyes and nose in particular — and you may wheeze a little and occasionally cough. You won’t have a sore throat.”
A clear discharge from the nose is also a sign of hay fever, whereas a yellow or green discharge could signal an infection.
When should I take medication?
“Try to pre-empt your symptoms and start taking medication a week or two before the pollen count rises,” Dr Morris advises. “It can be hard to work out so start taking regular antihistamines as soon as you notice symptoms.
“People will often take them, but stop when they feel better. Then their symptoms return.
“Taking them continuously could offer better protection and a better quality of life.
“The long-acting, non-sedating options on sale now are very safe to take right through the hay fever season.
“There is no harm in taking one every day from now until the pollen count falls in July or August.”
What medication is best?
“If you suffer with itching, whether that is eyes, nose or mouth, anti-histamines are great,” explains Margaret.
“We usually advise a non-sedating antihistamine as it won’t make you feel sleepy. There is no single product that will work for everybody. If one doesn’t work, try another.
“Antihistamine eye drops and nasal sprays are available over the counter and different treatments are available from your GP if symptoms are severe.”
Can my face mask ease symptoms?
Research has found that Covid-19 masks are helping people with hay fever, as they filter out pollen.
Margaret says: “Wearing a mask helps to reduce levels of inhaled pollen, studies have shown.
“This is something we are recommending to everybody at the moment. It is important to keep your masks clean and remove them properly.”
Can natural remedies help?
“Some studies have shown one herbal treatment called butterbur may be effective against hay fever,” Dr Morris says. “It’s a type of herb and clinical trials have shown it can be almost as effective as anti-histamines and you can buy it in health food stores.
“Other people swear by a teaspoon of local honey. The theory is that the pollen in the honey desensitises you. There is no harm in it, but there is no evidence it works.”
What about anti-allergy gadgets?
“You can buy all sorts, including an infrared light that you shine up your nose to help alleviate symptoms, but I’ve never seen any evidence that it works,” Dr Morris says.
“It’s a gimmick. Really, you are best off saving your money.”
Can sex help my symptoms?
Researchers at Tabriz Medical University in Iran say sex causes blood vessels in nasal passages to constrict, helping to clear blocked noses and dry up runny eyes caused by hay fever.
But the jury is still out on whether it will help. “It will probably distract you from your symptoms,” Dr Morris says. “There is certainly no harm in it.”
Why is it worse in the city?
It is often worse in towns and cities when pollen is combined with air pollution. Dr Morris explains: “You get a combination of diesel and pollen particles, which you don’t get in the countryside, and these can aggravate symptoms.”
When should I seek advice from my GP?
“Hay fever can have a profound effect on your day-to-day life,” Margaret says. “It’s not just sneezing or a runny nose.
“Hay fever can make you feel irritable and can lead to poor sleep, which in turn could make it difficult to carry on with daily tasks.
“If you have severe symptoms and you are finding that your home, work or school life is being impacted, it is a good idea to speak to a health professional.”
Can a gin and tonic help?
Red and white wine, beer and cider all contain high levels of histamines and sulphites, which can trigger allergies such as hay fever. But research has found that a gin and tonic may ease symptoms as it contains low levels of histamine.
“I’d take this advice with a pinch of salt,” Margaret says.
“Any alcohol can worsen hay fever symptoms, as it suppresses the immune system and stops the body being able to deal with the allergic reaction.
“It can also make your antihistamines less effective and increase their sedative effect. My advice is to keep alcohol intake to a minimum during the peak hay fever season.”
Why is it worse when I’m stressed?
Margaret says: “When you feel stressed or anxious, your body releases lots of hormones, which suppress the immune system and make it harder for your body to cope with the allergic reaction.
“That means it is a good idea to find time to de-stress or relax, especially after a year that has been one of high stress and anxiety for many people. Go for a walk, do some breathing exercises, spend time with friends. Whatever it is that helps you to relax is a good idea.”
What should I do if my child has hay fever?
Around ten to 15 per cent of children suffer and those aged two and over can take non-sedating anti-histamines. “It is very important to treat your child’s hay fever,” Margaret says. “Medication can be very effective and is important in helping to improve your child’s quality of life.
“Children may struggle to sleep and become irritable, lacking concentration in the day.
“A 2007 study found children with hay fever were more likely to drop a grade in exams than their peers.
“In addition, if you have asthma with hay fever that remains untreated, it can lead to worsening asthma symptoms.”
Where you can, plan family holidays out of peak pollen season or go to the seaside, where pollen counts tend to be lower. You should also avoid playing in fields or having picnics in parks on high pollen days.
Can I get a vaccine?
In severe cases, people can be desensitised to grass and tree pollen or house dust mites. “You are given injections or little drops to take that desensitise you against the pollen,” Dr Morris says.
“But it has to be done for three years, and at around £100 a month, it is expensive and beyond most budgets. NHS GPs don’t like to offer it either, due to the cost.”
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