predict hotter climates in the UK, which is likely to lead
to many plants flowering earlier making hay fever worse,
and making it last for longer periods. While most of us look
forward to the hottest months of the year, more and more
of us dread the streaming eyes, stuffy nose, itchy throat
and constant sneezy feeling
Hayfever or seasonal allergic rhinitis, to give it it's
proper name, is a very common condition, affecting 2 to 3
million people in Britain every year. It is the most common
allergy, affecting more than one third of people in the U.K.
It is caused by an allergy to pollen or sometimes mould spores.
In hayfever the body's immune system over reacts to the presence
of external substances, as if they were something toxic.
This results in irritation and inflammation.
Hayfever often runs in families, and is also related to
asthma and eczema. It is quite common to find a family with
some members with asthma, some with hayfever, and some with
eczema. Any individual might have more than one of these
Hay fever is the allergic reaction caused when the immune
system treats a harmless substance, such as pollen, as an "enemy
invader". The response causes the body to produce defensive
antibodies. When an allergen and an antibody combine, the body
releases histamine and other chemicals into the bloodstream
which then irritate and inflame the mucous membranes that line
the nose. Hay fever victims suffer sneezing fits, runny noses,
itchy eyes and have difficulty breathing. Attacks can be triggered
by tree, grass or weed pollen, and peoples sensitivity can
vary depending on the type of allergen in a particular area.
Anti-histamine drugs can help relieve symptoms, and there
is a plethora of other over-the-counter remedies and alternative
therapies on the market.
The symptoms vary from person to person and often involve sneezing,
runny/blocked nose, red, watery, and itchy eyes, and an associated
itchy throat. Very often there is also a wheezy chest, which
really suggests a degree of asthma. Unfortunately the peak
pollen time is the early summer when school and university
examinations take place. As a result sufferers find it difficult
to revise and to perform well in the actual examinations.
Different pollens are present at different times of year and
thus the time that you are affected depends on the pollen
to which you are allergic. Other factors which may aggravate
the situation are the weather and the air quality.
There are various treatments, some of which are available over
the counter from a pharmacist. Antihistamine tablets or medicine
reduce the effect on the body of one of the main chemicals
released by the allergic response.
There are nasal sprays which contain steroids and other substances
which reduce the local inflammatory response in the nose. There
are also eye drops which have similar effects on the eye. Those
people with asthmatic symptoms need treatment as for asthma.
Occasionally the doctor may consider it necessary to prescribe
either tablets containing steroids, or possibly an injection.
These can have more serious side effects than the other treatments,
so the possible benefits have to be weighed against the possible
disadvantages. There are currently thought to be arguments
in favour of the tablets rather than the injection.
There are injection treatments to desensitise patients against
the substance to which they are allergic. Unfortunately these
can bring on serious reactions, and can only be given under
close hospital supervision, and are thus hardly ever used.
There are several things you can do to lessen symptoms by avoiding
contact with the allergens, these include:
- In the summer stay inside between 5pm
and 7pm, when pollen counts are usually high. Keep windows
and doors closed, especially at these times and when sleeping.
- Use an air conditioner or filter when
possible, at home, work, and in the car, to remove pollen
and other allergens from the air.
- Damp dust and vacuum your home regularly,
to minimise the presence of pollen and dust.
- Airing bedclothes in direct sunlight is
- Be aware of the pollen count (usually
broadcast along with the weather), and avoid areas of high
pollen concentration, eg long grass, lawn mowings, and
trees if allergic to these. If you need to work in these
environments consider wearing a mask and goggles.
- Avoid unnecessary extra irritants such
as smoke and chemical fumes.
Medicines used in Hayfever
Decongestants (e.g. Sudafed)
You may find considerable relief by using a decongestant nasal
spray or tablets. Decongestants constrict blood vessels in
the lining of the nose and therefore reduce inflammation.
Decongestant nasal sprays should only be used for a short
time, if they are used for longer than say one week, congestion
can actually get worse.
Antihistamines (e.g. Clarityn,
Neo-Clarityn, Semprex, Piriton)
Histamine is the body-chemical responsible for the irritation
and inflammation that occurs in response to pollen. Antihistamines
are very effective in relieving the symptoms of hayfever. You
can buy antihistamines over the counter. Be careful to take
a non-sedating antihistamine, older types cause sedation and
are therefore dangerous. You should not drive when taking sedating
medicines. Antihistamines are normally given first. If antihistamines
do not control the symptoms, eye-drops or nasal spray can be
prescribed in addition.
Anti-Allergy Eye Drops (e.g.
Opticrom) and Nasal Spray (e.g.
Cromoglycate and Nedocromil are anti-allergy drugs that are
not steroids. It can be dangerous to use steroids in the eyes.
Anti-allergy eye-drops are useful as an adjunct to antihistamines
if the eye symptoms are still a problem. Anti-allergy nasal
sprays are not prescribed very often because people find steroid
nasal sprays so effective.
Steroid Nasal Sprays (e.g.
Nasacort, Flixonase, Nasonex)
Steroids are powerful anti-inflammatory agents. Steroid nasal
sprays are very effective in controlling the nasal symptoms
of hayfever. They do not help with the other symptoms, so it
may be necessary to combine the treatment with antihistamines
or eye-drops. It is safe to use nasal steroid sprays for prolonged
periods, unlike decongestant sprays.
Steroid Tablets or Injections
We use these only as a last resort as there are potentially
serious side effects. You should always insist that you are
given full written information detailing the possible side
effects so that you may make an informed decision to have
steroid treatment for hayfever. You should not have holiday
vaccinations for Yellow Fever, Polio (live version) or Typhoid
(live version) within 3 months of having steroid treatment.
A short course of steroid tablets is a useful treatment for
severe hayfever as a last resort or in extreme circumstances
when you have to be symptom-free e.g. for a wedding, exam
or theatre performance.
What triggers allergies?
A number of different allergens trigger allergies in people,
with some of the most common including pollen, dust, mould
and pets. Allergy UK is the country's leading medical charity
dealing with allergy and we are here to help you. We can provide
you with up to date information on all aspects of allergy,
food intolerance and chemical sensitivity.
If you think that you may have an allergy or an intolerance
then our fully trained helpline staff will be able to guide
you to the appropriate specialist and provide you with practical
advice and support in managing your symptoms.
There is a wealth of allergy information available on this
many detailed fact sheets and articles written
and approved by leading specialists in the field of allergy,
as well as detailed allergy videos to
help you better understand various aspects of allergy. Visit
AllergyUK for further information click