Are you suffering?
The days are getting longer, the sun is getting warmer. While some of us are rejoicing in the welcome change from the winter chill; 1 in every 5 are suffering from itchy/stuffy noses, watery, red and itchy eyes – commonly known as hay fever.
Hay fever (or correctly called seasonal allergic rhinitis) is an allergic reaction to pollen (fine grains produced by trees, grasses, flowers and plants), dust mite, animal fur and moulds. If these allergens get into the sinuses, nose, eyes or throat, it can cause an inflammatory response leading to:
- a runny or blocked nose,
- sore and itchy eyes
- itchy throat, mouth, ears and nose
- a cough or an exacerbation of asthma (Around 8 in 10 people with asthma have allergic rhinitis, making asthma more difficult to control).
- Blocked sinuses can also lead to headaches, earache, fatigue, poor quality sleep, a sore face and if severe enough an infection.
Tips for reducing pollen exposure
- Stay indoors until after midday (if possible to reduce your exposure to pollen, particularly during the pollen season and on windy days.
- Try to avoid going out on windy days or after thunderstorms.
- Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes.
- Do not mow the grass and stay inside when it is being mown. If mowing is unavoidable, wear a mask or consider taking a non-drowsy antihistamine if your doctor has suggested this.
- Consider planting a low allergen garden around the home.
- Keep windows closed both at home and particularly when in your car (and where possible use recirculating air conditioning in your car).
- Do not picnic in parks or outdoors during the pollen season.
- Try to plan your holidays out of the pollen season or holiday at the seaside.
- If you are sensitive to particular weeds or trees that are outside your bedroom window, have them removed.
- If landscaping at home, research plants less likely to trigger allergic rhinitis or asthma.
- Shower when you arrive home and rinse your eyes frequently with water.
- Reduce your exposure to dust and dust mites, animals and animal hair or fur (dander).
- Carry a supply of tissues.
Effective treatments are available
Seek advice from your pharmacist or doctor about medications or treatments that will relieve your symptoms. Although medications do not cure allergies, they are much more effective with fewer side effects than medications available 20 years ago. You just need to know the best way to use them, and to avoid medicines that can cause more problems than they solve, like frequent decongestant (unblocking) nose sprays or tablets.
- Antihistamine tablets or syrups (non-sedating) help to reduce symptoms (sneezing, itchy and irritating eyes), but they are not as effective in controlling severe nasal blockage and dribble. The advantage of antihistamines is their flexibility; you can take them when you have problems, and avoid them when you are well. Antihistamine eye drops can also be helpful in controlling watery eyes due to allergies.
- Intranasal corticosteroid nasal sprays (INCS) have a potent action on inflammation when used regularly (like asthma preventer medications). These need to be used regularly and with careful attention to the way in which they are used. Different brands of INCS vary in strength and effectiveness, so it is important to read the labels and check details with your doctor or pharmacist.
- Combination medications containing an antihistamine and intranasal corticosteroid nasal spray are available and offer the combined advantages of both medications.
- Decongestant sprays unblock and dry the nose, but should not be used for more than a few days as they can cause long-term problems in the nose.
- Decongestant tablets unblock and dry the nose, but should be used with caution as they can have ‘stimulant’ side effects like tremors, trouble sleeping, anxiety or an increase in blood pressure. People with high blood pressure should not take this medication.
- Combination medications containing an antihistamine and decongestant are also available, but these need to be used with caution as the decongestants can cause many side effects.
- Natural products such as salt water nasal sprays or sinus irrigation/nasal toilets can be effective in relieving symptoms.
- Appropriate management of ‘pollen asthma’ includes commencing anti-inflammatory asthma medication either preventatively or with the first ‘wheeze’ of Spring. Some patients undergoing allergen immunotherapy for their allergic rhinitis find that their seasonal asthma improves as well.
There is no known cure for hay fever. Although it can disappear as you get older – equally, people who have never had hay fever before can also develop it later in life.
Talking with your pharmacist, and understanding how treatments work, and how to best avoid pollens, can help give you a better quality of life and keep your allergic rhinitis well controlled. Sometimes, however, symptoms may worsen, and follow up with your GP would be recommended.