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Hay fever is a common allergy to pollen, which affects around one in five people in the UK. An estimated 13 million people in the UK suffer from mild to severe hay fever. While hay fever usually begins in childhood, you can get it at any time in your life and can even grow out of it!  The culprit, Pollen, is a fine powdery substance which is released by plants as a part of the reproductive system.

Come spring/summer, hay fever can strike at its worst. Whilst we can be affected but hay fever all year round, due to the higher levels of pollen, most suffers find they only experience symptoms from spring to the end of summer.

In order to treat hayfever effectively, you need to know what is causing it and what the symptoms are.

Symptoms of hayfever:

  • Sneezing
  • Blocked nose
  • Tickly throat, mouth, nose and ears
  • Cough
  • Itchy eyes
  • Watering eyes
  • Headaches

 What causes hay fever?

As mentioned, hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen. It is when the tiny pollen particles come in to contact with the lining cells of your nose, throat, mouth and eyes that an irritation and allergic reaction is triggered.

Your body overreacts to something it sees a threat when you have an allergic reaction. If you thus have an allergic reaction to pollen, your body responds accordingly – as if it were a virus attacking it. Hay fever is not a virus or an infection, however. Due to this your immune system, which is your body’s natural defence system, releases a bunch of chemicals which are designed prevent the spread of the “virus”. This release triggers the symptoms of the allergic reaction listed above.

There are around 30 kinds of pollen that could trigger hay fever symptoms. It is possible to be allergic to more than one type of pollen. Depending on certain factors like month of birth and location, your allergy to certain types or type of pollen can be specific. Summer babies are more likely to have hay fever, so when and where you were born can mean you don’t have time to build up an immunity to the certain type of pollen prominent in that season/area of the country.

 The main sources pollen which affects people are:

  • Grass – Usually most present late march to mid-may. around 90% of people in the UK who suffer from hay fever are allergic to Rye or Timothy grass pollen.
  • Weeds – Usually most present at the end of June to September time. Dock, nettles and mugwort can all cause hay fever, however this is the least common form of allergen for those with hay fever and tend to occur during autumn.
  • Trees – Usually most present from mid-may to July in the UK, about 25% of those with hay fever are allergic to the pollen realised by trees. This includes the oak, cedar, ash and birch. Birch allergies can extent to allergies of peaches, plums, apples and cherries because these all contain a protein like birch pollen.

It is often a misconception that when it rains your hay fever symptoms will lessen because hay fever and summer are so heavily associated. In fact, rain can make hay fever worse as it brings all the pollen in the air down so that we are more exposed to it.

Treatment for hay fever

Having and dealing with hay fever can be horrible and exhausting! Unfortunately there is no cure at this time in history but the symptoms can be relieved to a certain extent, some people find.

The most effective way to control your symptoms of hay fever is to avoid exposing yourself to pollen. However, this is not practical as you wouldn’t be able to leave the house, open a window on a hot day or even come into contact with someone who has been outside that therefore may have pollen on their skin or clothes. It is also not fair! Summer time is for enjoying time outside for the few weeks we get of sun here in the UK.

Another option is to take antihistamines which help with preventing symptoms and allergic reactions to anything, including pollen.

You can also take corticosteroids (steroids) to have relive inflammation and reduce any swelling that has occurred as a result of hay fever.

Over-the-counter medication that you can get from your pharmacist specifically for hay fever can control your reaction to pollen. However, these have little effect on people with a really bad case of hay fever and may op to speak to their GP to get a stronger, prescription medication.

For severe hay fever that is persistent and long-term (i.e you get it each year really badly, or it continues throughout the year), there is a treatment named immunotherapy. This treatment involves exposing yourself to small amount of pollen over time, which eventually aims to build up your resistance to the pollen and the effects it has on you. The downside of the this treatment is that it can take months and even years to work, and the process with obviously involve making yourself have the symptoms of hay fever out of choice.

Self-help tips

  • Wearing sunglasses can help – especially wrap around sunglasses to block pollen getting to your eyes. Furthermore, sunlight can irritate eyes which are already suffering from allergy.
  • Taking a shower and washing your hair after being outside should wash all the pollen from your body and hair, meaning that you will be suffering from symptoms less whilst in doors or over night.
  • Change clothes after pollen exposure for the same reasons as above.
  • Keep an eye on the news for the pollen count specific to the day. When the pollen count s over 50 grains per cubic metre of air, try and stay inside.
  • Applying Vaseline under your eyes and under your nose and around the nostrils can catch and trap the pollen before it can affect you too badly.
  • For relieve from itchy or streaming eyes, wet two cotton pads and place them in the freezer. Lie back and place them over your eyes to cool them and relive symptoms. You can actually buy gel-eye pads designed to go in the freezer if you are wanting to invest.

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