The UK is becoming one of the hay fever capitals of the world. Although actually nobody seems to have a real handle on the statistics. Some experts claim 15-20% of people in the UK get what is technically called ‘allergenic rhinitis’. However a recent survey of students during exam time reckoned that as many as 50% reported some sort of hay fever symptom.
Figures for the working population estimate that days off work due to hay fever cost the UK economy £7 billion every year. One thing that does seem to be certain is that the number of people with hay fever is going up every year. The Daily Telegraph has predicted that by 2020 the number of UK sufferers will be around 30 million – so round about 50% of us then!
The hay fever ‘season’ breaks into two distinct periods. The first is early spring when the trees come into bud. The second is mid-summer when grass pollen is the culprit – which is why students suffer at exam time. Luckily (although most sufferers wouldn’t call it that) most people are allergic to one sort of pollen or the other.
Basically ‘pollination’ is all about plants having sex. The problem with tree pollen is that different trees want to have sex at different times in spring. Birch trees are one of the earliest and produce one of the most aggressive pollens. The Plane trees that line so many of our city streets may look beautiful but are equally nasty a bit later on in the year.
Last year with spring so late the pollen season was mercifully short if very intense. This year winter seems to have passed us by. OK so we’ve had a monsoon – not good. But all you’ve got to do is look in the parks or hedgerows and you can see pussy willow and catkins bursting into life as the trees make eyes at each other. The only benefit of the continual rain is that it washes the pollen down the drains.
Looking at longer-range weather forecasts online the damp weather seems set to continue until the back end of February. However temperatures also stay mild which will keep trees and plants frisky. As soon as it dries up chances are we’ll have passed the point of no return. If tree pollen gets up your nose in a bad way our advice is to start taking something mid-February.
Sometimes it’s not about what you eat, it’s about what you breathe
Whatever you take for your hay fever the best current medical thinking is that you need to prepare your system in advance. If you buy regular anti-histamines at the super market you should try and start taking them at least 2 weeks in advance of the expected onset of your symptoms – which actually isn’t as easy as it sounds.
If you prefer more holistic treatment such as desensitisation you really need to get on it earlier still. That’s even harder as who knows when the trees will get around to making out?
Nobody has any idea just how much hay fever sufferers shell out every year on remedies. However most of the big supermarkets now offer their own alternative products to the big brands like Clarityn and Zirtek. It’s always worth comparing supermarkets as prices vary quite dramatically for the same drug and BOGOF offers are often available.
Two of the generic drugs are now available as own-brands. These are Loratidine and Cetirezine Hydrochloride. All the big supermarkets have these at around £1 for 14 tabs – which should last you 2 weeks.