While we have endless reasons to love the spring season, there’s one element many of us dread about it – hay fever.
Anyone who has hay fever knows just how incredibly irritating, inconvenient and expensive it can be. Not only does it prevent you from enjoying social events like picnics or summer garden parties without sneezing all over the place, make it hard to attend festivals, or simply step outside if you live in the countryside, but the cost of treating it can be an additional nuisance.
To make matters worse, hay fever season has taken us all by surprise by arriving extra early this year, with the pollen rising higher and a higher just in time for the bank holiday weekend.
Experts say that the onset of hay fever symptoms has arrived around three weeks ahead of schedule in 2019, and headlines are warning of a coming ‘pollen bomb’ that could put sufferers at risk of some scarily strong reactions.
It’s all apparently down to the birch tree, which usually only releases its pollen into the air for four weeks a year, ahead of the onset of grass pollen in May and June, but has been prompted by the unusual surge of sunshine we’ve all been basking in to start spreading it already.
But playing the blame game won’t get you very far – and we’re all about solutions instead. We’ve asked Dr Clare Morrison of MedExpress and airborne allergens expert and creator of HayMax allergen barrier balm Max Wiseberg to break down all the symptoms of hay fever and talk us through the best treatments and hay fever remedies on offer.
What exactly is hay fever?
‘Hay fever is a common allergy to pollens from grass, trees and flowers, and it generally starts at this time of year,’ explains Dr Morrison. ‘The main features are an itchy watery nose (rhinitis), sneezing, and itchy red puffy eyes. It can also cause an itchy throat and cough, as well as aggravating asthma if you have it.’
‘Everyone can tolerate a certain amount of pollen before they suffer an allergic reaction,’ adds Wiseberg. ‘So if you keep enough pollen out, your hay fever symptoms won’t be triggered.’
Common hay fever symptoms include:
- Sneezing and coughing
- A runny or blocked nose
- Itchy, red or watery eyes
- Itchy throat, mouth, nose and ears
- Loss of smell
- Pain around your temples and forehead
- Feeling tired
How do I prevent hay fever?
‘In order to prevent the worst of the symptoms, avoid contact with pollens and grasses by keeping away from parks and gardens, particularly when levels are at their highest, in the early morning, evening, and at night,’ says Dr Morrison. ‘If you do go out, have a shower and change your clothes when you get inside. Also, keep your windows shut and avoid drying your washing outdoors.’
Top tips on how to prevent hay fever
The following seven steps are a quick and easy way to avoid hay fever symptoms, says Wiseberg.
- Keep doors and windows shut, to help prevent pollen blowing into the house, especially the bedroom. This shouldn’t be too much of a problem in spring, unless there is an unseasonal hot spell.
- Vacuum the house regularly (especially beds and fabrics) to remove pollen particles.
- Damp dust surfaces so that pollen is removed but not dispersed into the air. If you own a pet then ensure that it is well groomed and shampooed as much as possible to remove pet allergens and pollen particles.
- Use an allergen barrier balm around the nostrils and bones of the eyes in the morning and throughout the day. HayMax has been proven to trap over a third of pollen particles before they enter the body where they can cause symptoms.
- When going outdoors, wear wrap-around sunglasses to prevent pollen particles coming in contact with your eyes. Also, tie your hair up and wear a hat or cap to prevent pollen particles being caught in your hair.
- Wash your face as soon as you get home. This will wash away allergens so that they can’t cause a reaction, and a cool compress will soothe sore eyes. Shower at night before sleeping to remove pollen particles and pet hair from your hair and body.
- Wash your bedding very regularly to remove allergens and dry clothes indoors rather than on a clothes line ad this will prevent pollen particles being blown onto the clothes by the outside wind.
How can I treat hay fever?
If you’re already suffering, according to Dr Clare, treatments may include the following:
- Antihistamines. There are a variety available. Some cause drowsiness, but many don’t, so do check if you are driving or working. One very effective, non-sedating antihistamine, is fexofenadine.
- Anti-allergy eye drops. These will help treat eye symptoms, such as redness, itching, swelling and watering.
- Steroid nasal sprays can help with an itchy, runny, or congested nose.
- Cellulose nasal sprays act by coating the lining of the nose with a barrier film. This help prevents the pollen from coming into direct contact with the nasal surface, reducing the allergic response.
- Injectable steroid. In severe cases, your GP may prescribe an injectable steroid, which will last for a few weeks, possibly the entire hay fever season. However, it tends to be given as a last resort, because steroids can cause side effects, including weight gain, dyspepsia, raised blood sugar, and osteoporosis (weak bones).
- Honey. Some people claim that eating honey can help desensitise pollen allergies, because it contains pollen itself. There is some controversy about how effective this is, but if you want to try it, it’s best to eat honey that has been made locally.