Breathe easy during hay fever season

18 June 2018

If you are sneezing, have runny eyes and a blocked nose, the chances are it is not a summer cold but hay fever. Whether you are new to this annual blight, or have suffered for years, Spire Gatwick Park Hospital’s Ears, Nose and Throat Consultant, Mr Mike O’Connell, has some helpful advice to help lessen the symptoms.

Unless you live in a bubble, it is very hard to avoid pollen which triggers the symptoms of hay fever. The proper name for it is `allergic rhinitis’ which affects one in five people.

It is hereditary, so if one parent has allergic rhinitis, there is a 30% chance their children will have it too. If both parents suffer, the risk increases to 60%.

For the majority of sufferers, it can be managed with over the counter (OTC) medicine, but for some it is debilitating, affecting their performance at work or school. 

Hay fever often starts in the early teens but can lessen in older age. There is a vague rule that if you start hay fever early in life you are likely to finish earlier. 

This month, July, it will be grass pollens which are causing misery to many. As grass pollen travels up to 10 miles, there is no escaping it, but there is a lot you can do to reduce the symptoms.

The good news is the hay fever season tends to diminish by the end of August. Keep these tips handy so you are prepared for next year as hay fever is predictable, unlike the English weather.”

Treatments of hay fever

For most people, OTC medications should help. Antihistamines will help reduce itching and sneezing, but a steroid spray may be needed to unblock the nose. Steroids sprays are very safe for long term use, but in rare cases may cause headaches and nose bleeds.  If this happens, stop the medication immediately and see your GP. You can also try washing your nose out with a saline spray. 

When to go to the GP

If OTC medicine isn’t working after a couple of weeks, visit your GP. You may be given a stronger medication on prescription. However, if this too doesn’t help after a few weeks, and you are struggling at school or work, go back to you GP and ask to be referred to a specialist.

What more can be done:

A specialist is likely to carry out allergy testing to determine if the allergic reaction is caused by pollen or something else, like house mite dust. A skin prick test is more accurate than a blood test, and can specify which types of pollen you are allergic to. It could be pollen from a plant rather than grass which would be easier to avoid – unlike grass pollens, plant pollens are localized so it might be a case of digging up that bush in your garden or avoiding a certain type of hedge on your walk home from work.

A specialist may prescribe sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) – the patient is given small doses of an allergen under the tongue to boost tolerance to the substance and reduce symptoms. However, it could take a couple of years before dramatic improvement is noticed.

Self-help Tips:

  • Check the pollen count forecast daily. If a high pollen count is predicted, take your medication early. If you need to step outside, go out earlier as pollen rises throughout the day
  • If you find your antihistamine is not working, swop to another brand. Some can make you drowsy so start the medication at the weekend, or on a day off, to avoid driving or operating machinery
  • Shower before bedtime to wash any pollen off your skin and hair, and change your day clothes away from the bedroom
  • On high pollen count days, keep all windows shut if possible
  • Invest in a pollen filter for the car
  • Wear wraparound sunglasses to stop pollen getting in your eyes when outdoors
  • Apply a small amount of petroleum gel to the nostrils to trap pollen grains
  • Next year, go to your GP in March/April so you can be prepared for when the hay fever season begins

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