The Great British Summer is upon us! For most, this means picnics in the park, evening strolls and enjoying the great outdoors. But for some, it is a time of great misery.
Hay fever affects approximately 20% of the population at one time or another. It is caused by an allergic reaction to pollen. The body’s natural defence system reacts to the pollen as if it were harmful (even though it isn’t) and tries to fight it off, by releasing a substance called histamine.
- Runny nose
- Itchy, watery eyes
- Itchy throat
The pollen count is the number of grains of pollen in one cubic metre of air. Symptoms will usually be worse when the pollen count is high. I have compiled a few top tips to get you through those days!
- Use a daily non-drowsy antihistamine – the most common ones you can buy over the counter are loratadine and cetirizine. If one stops working then switch to the other.
- If these antihistamines don’t help then see your GP, they can prescribe a stronger antihistamine such as desloratadine or fexofenadine.
- If your symptoms aren’t controlled with tablets, your GP might prescribe a nasal spray that has a steroid in it – this reduces the inflammation in the nose and helps with sneezing, itching and congestion.
- Use sodium cromoglicate eye drops – four times a day
Reducing pollen exposure
- Use Vaseline around the nose to act as a barrier to the pollen entering your nose
- Wear sunglasses (ideally wrap arounds) to keep the pollen out of your eyes
- Change your clothes when you get in from being outside, and wash your hair if you can – this will reduce the transfer of pollen to furniture and your pillow
- Keep your windows closed – especially early in the morning and late evening when the pollen count is thought to be highest
- Avoid hanging your clothes outside to dry – they can collect pollen
- Keep your car windows closed when driving and use the ‘re-circulate’ button if there is one
- Don’t let your pets get too close to your face – they carry pollen in their fur. You can wipe them down after a walk.
Add on treatments
- Sodium cromoglicate nasal spray – may help with a runny / itchy nose symptoms
- Ipratropium bromide nasal spray – may help with a runny nose but not sneezing or congestion
- Decongestant nasal sprays – can give immediate relief for a blocked nose, but shouldn’t be used for more than a few days
- Nasal saline washouts – to help wash out any pollen in the nostrils
In severe cases
A short course of steroid tablets can be prescribed to help settle the inflammation in special circumstances – for example if you have an exam coming up. Immunotherapy treatment which aims to desensitise the body to pollen over a period of time may also be offered in rare cases.
Usually, once you find the right combination that works for you – your symptoms can be controlled! Speak to your GP if you have any questions.