You're probably all too familiar with hay fever symptoms—the runny nose, the sneezing, the itchy (oh-so-itchy) red eyes. Hay fever is an allergy to pollen. And it's a very common allergy, affecting two in 10 people in the UK. Thankfully the symptoms of hay fever are seasonal, occurring only in the spring and summer months when pollens counts are at the highest. People can be allergic to different types of pollen, from grass pollen to tree pollen to weed pollen, hence why different hay fever sufferers can experience a different severity of symptoms despite being in the same environment.
So what are the symptoms?
- Runny nose
- Blocked nose
- Itchy, watery, red eyes
People who suffer with asthma and eczema are more likely to develop hay fever. This is because the three conditions are atopic. Atopy means they are driven by an underlying allergy. If you already have asthma, symptoms of wheezing and breathlessness may increase during hay fever season, as pollen can be the trigger.
How is hay fever diagnosed?
Hay fever is diagnosed based on symptoms and the seasonal nature in which they occur. Allergy tests are rarely needed and only carried out if the underlying cause of the symptoms is unclear or the severity of symptoms is out of proportion to classic hay fever symptoms, suggesting there may be another cause.
Keep scrolling for Dr. Jane Leonard's tips on hay fever treatment.
Allergies are driven by histamine, so the first stop to reverse and prevent the symptoms of hay fever is with an antihistamine. Many antihistamines can be bought over the counter from your pharmacist. Medicines like cetirizine or loratadine are a good place to start.
The main benefit of these preparations is that they are nondrowsy, opposed to other anti-histamines like Piriton, which has a sedating side effect. (Although this can be helpful if your hay fever symptoms keep you up at night!) Antihistamines should be avoided during the day if you are driving or operating machinery.
If antihistamines aren’t working for you, this is a good time to visit your GP, who will assess your symptoms and confirm the diagnosis. They may suggest a prescription-only antihistamine to try, such as fexofenadine. Keep scrolling for more treatment ideas…
Steroid nasal sprays
Steroids work by reducing the inflammation in the nasal passages caused by the pollen allergen, which leads to the nasal symptoms of congestion, runny/blocked nose and itch.
Decongestant nasal sprays
They are useful in the short term, particularly if your nose is blocked. They are not for long-term use, so if your symptoms persist, seek advice from your doctor.
Antihistamine eye drops can be prescribed by your doctor to help ease the redness, itch and watering that hay fever can cause. They work in a similar way to the tablet form but act locally to treat the specific eye symptoms.
The symptoms of hay fever can be really frustrating and infringe on your precise outdoor time during the summer months. There are simple steps that you can take to help stop the hay fever symptoms taking hold.
Reduce Alcohol Consumption
Beer, wine and spirits all contain histamine. So a boozy barbecue can be a hay fever sufferer's worst nightmare. As well as increasing histamine levels and histamine sensitivity, alcohol also causes dehydration, which makes your symptoms worst.
Maintain a Balanced Diet
Some foods may make hay fever symptoms flare up. The typical culprits are tomatoes, apples and stone fruits. Keep a brief diary of the foods you eat and your symptoms; you should quickly be able to identify which ones to avoid.
Also certain food groups have anti-inflammatory effects, such as oily fish, nuts and seeds. Stock up on these superfoods and it should help keep your body’s baseline levels of inflammation at a low, which will have the same effect on your hay fever symptoms.
Evidence shows there is a link between increased stress and increased severity of symptoms in hay fever sufferers. Stress management, through increased exercise and sleep, can help ease your hay fever symptoms too.
Next up! Try this genius trick to help you fall asleep fast.
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