Hay fever is a type of allergic rhinitis caused by pollen or spores. Allergic rhinitis is a condition where an allergen (something that causes an allergic reaction) makes the inside of your nose inflamed (swollen). Hay fever affects the nose, sinuses (small air-filled cavities behind your cheekbones and forehead), throat and eyes. Hay fever usually occurs during the spring and summer months. Exactly when you get it depends on which pollens you are allergic to. From May to July grass and flowers are in pollen, so this is the most common time for hay fever.
Trees, grass and plants release pollen as part of their reproductive process. Mould and fungi also release tiny reproductive particles, called spores which also cause allergies. Grass is the most common cause of hayfever.
Hay fever is a common condition that affects around 20% of the population. Hay fever is more likely if there is a family history of allergies, particularly asthma or eczema. It is estimated that up to 50% of asthmatics and up to 30% of eczema sufferers also have hayfever. Hay fever usually begins in the early teens and peaks when a person is in their twenties.
Symptoms of hayfever include sneezing, running nose, watery eyes, nasal congestion, itching in the throat, eyes and ears and swelling around the eyes. Asthmatics often find that asthma symptoms, such as wheezing and breathlessness, get worse when they have hay fever as well. Sometimes, asthma symptoms only occur during the hay fever season.
The symptoms of hay fever occur when the immune system overreacts to a normally harmless substance, in this case pollen. When the body contacts pollen, cells in the lining of the nose, mouth and eyes release a chemical called histamine. This triggers the symptoms of an allergic reaction.
Will I grow out of it?
Hay fever cannot be cured completely. Children sometimes improve with age, although many have persistent and worsening symptoms. In adults, the condition is usually persistent with some improvement in older age.
The pollen count is often given with TV, radio, internet, or newspaper weather forecasts. If it is humid or windy, the pollen count is likely to be higher. The pollen count is highest in the early evening, so try to avoid going outside around this time. Keep windows and doors shut in the house, try drawing the curtains to keep out the sun and keep the temperature down. Avoid cutting grass, playing, walking or camping in grassy areas. Change your clothes and take a shower after being outdoors to remove the pollen on your body. Wear wrap-around sunglasses to stop pollen getting in your eyes when you are outdoors. Keep car windows closed, and consider buying a pollen filter for the air vents in your car. Keep fresh flowers out of the house, and vacuum (ideally using a machine with a HEPA filter) and damp dust regularly. Do not smoke and stop other people from smoking in your house. Smoke irritates the lining of your nose, eyes, throat and airways which can make your symptoms worse. Keep pets out of the house during the hay fever season if your pet normally comes indoors; wash pets regularly to remove any pollen.
To be continued next week
Disclaimer: Please ensure you consult with your healthcare professional before making any changes recommended