hay fever head pic

Hay fever

Though your friends, teachers or annoying younger brother may not take it seriously, as a sufferer of hay fever I know what a frustration hay fever can be and that it is not to be taken lightly. It can be incredibly uncomfortable to live with the symptoms, which may include a runny nose, scratchy throat and itchy eyes.

Actually for many of us runny nose and itchy eyes can be considered a real understatement.  I’ve been known to consume multiple “man-sized” tissue boxes in a morning and lost more fluid in an hour through snot than a sweaty Somoan rugby player on a mid-summer’s day.

The reality is that hay fever may cause real disruption to your daily life and your sleep. Needless to say, taking an exam in this condition gives you yet another hurdle to overcome. Hayfever can be miserable and we should talk you through how to recognize the symptoms, what is causing the problem and ways in which you can find relief.

It’s important to distinguish hay fever from a summer cold as at the outset the symptoms may be similar. However the big difference is that a cold gets better – if you have hay fever the symptoms don’t go away until the pollen does.

+   Symptoms

There are some classic hay fever symptoms and then there are some that are a little less obvious. It may difficult to distinguish between these symptoms and those of cold but there are few tell-tell signs

  • Runny nose and nasal congestion
    • If this is caused by an allergy the snot will be thin, watery and basically colourless (apologies for sounding gross, discussing snot isn’t my first choice either but someone’s got to)
    • If you have a cold or an infection the snot will be thicker and have a green/yellow colour just like in the cartoons
  • Watery or itchy eyes
    • Can get a swollen with a blue-ish tint
    • Can feel so bad you want to scratch them out
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy roof of mouth or back of throat
  • Cough
  • Decreased sense of smell and taste
  • Reduced productiveness and concentration
  • Difficulty getting sleep or poor quality of sleep
  • Worsening of asthma
  • Ear infections
  • In extreme cases you can get a deformity of nasal structures causing a crease across the nose
    • “patients may wipe or rub their nose with the palm of their hand in an upward motion: an action known as the "nasal salute" or the "allergic salute".”
    • If this is done often enough it can lead to permanent change in the structure of the nose
  • Potentially long lasting
    • Unlike a cold which will most likely last 3-5 days hay fever will begin once you are exposed to the pollen causing the problem and stick around for as long as you are exposed

+   Causes

Hay fever is an allergy caused by the pollen released by trees, weeds and grasses. Different plants release their pollen at different times of year meaning that you can suffer from hay fever in the spring, summer or autumn. The pollen gets into your ears, nose and throat and leads to an allergic reaction.

In an allergic reaction your body freaks out a little and identifies what are really quite harmless substances as something harmful and in need of fighting off. In this case your body interprets pollen as a bad guy and produces antibodies to fight it. It also attempts to get the pollen out of the system as quickly as possible and releases things called histamine to flush your system out. This is what causes the runny nose and watery eyes.

Unfortunately once your body has acknowledged pollen as being a bad guy, the very next time it runs into it the process will be repeated and it will produce antibodies and prepare your system for war against the supposed bad guys all over again.

There are a couple of common culprits for hay fever and 90% of sufferers are allergic to grass pollen. 25% of people in the UK are allergic to birch, and ragweed and rape seed have been known to cause bad reactions also.

+   Treatment

There are a number of different treatment options

Nasal Spray

There are three main types of nasal sprays that effective against hay fever

  • Saline solution (salt in water) spray which will wash out the pollen
  • Nasal corticosteroid spray such as beclomtasone or fluticasone
    • This has been proven to be one of the best treatments for hay fever as it is very effective and safe
    • These can be bought over the counter at the local pharmacy
    • Reduces nasal passage inflammation and itchy eyes
    • Most effective if used daily and if started before you are exposed to the allergy
  • Antihistamine spray (often azelastine)
    • This may be prescribed by your Doctor
    • Used to provide rapid relief for nasal symptoms only
    • Some suggest it is not as effective as corticosteroid spray

Nasal Decongestant

  • Such a pseudoephedrine  which is often also used for cold medicines
  • Will help to relieve blocked nose passages
  • Often will only be effective for a week or so
  • Can be safely used with antihistamines

Antihistamine Tablets and Syrups

There are two main types of antihistamine tablets; drowsy and non-drowsy. Both types work to prevent the histamine your body is producing from causing an allergic response.

  • Good at relieving most the symptoms though not always great at relieving a blocked nose
  • There are four common types of antihistamine – look on the box on the chemist’s shelves
    • Chlorphenanine
    • Acrivastine
    • Cetrizine
    • Loratadine
  • Different people often respond better to different types of antihistamines so you might want to experiment by trying out a variety of different typesto see what will work best for you
  • Antihistamines are most effective if taken before exposure

Injections

These are not commonly used and are only for the worst sufferers who have failed to find relief with nasal sprays and tablets.

  • If you struggle to find relief with standard hay fever medications you may be referred to a specialist by your doctor
  • Injections contain some of the pollen you are allergic to
  • Rarely used for those with grass pollen allergies but tablets containing pollen may be used instead

+   Prevention

You can’t get rid of hay fever but there are a couple of precautions you can take alongside hay-fever treatments to help reduce your symptoms (basically it’s all about hiding and minimising your exposure):

  • Cover your mattresses and pillows with an allergy proof covers
  • Keep windows and doors closed in the seasons that you suffer the worst, or near lawns being mown
  • Don’t hang laundry outside in seasons you suffer the worst as pollen can stick to it
  • Keep pets brushed and washed as the pollen sticks to their fur
  • Some people suggest wiping Vaseline over the bottom of your nose to prevent pollen getting in especially while doing activities like dusting, mowing the lawn or grooming pets
  • Shower at night to help you get to sleep – in particular pollen will stick to your hair
  • If you’re really bad try to stay indoors in the morning and the evening when the pollen is nearest the ground – during the day warm air will naturally lift it higher
  • Watch the weather forecast – bizarrely wet and windy days are the hay fever sufferers’ friend!

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