If you regularly have itchy eyes, a runny nose and a congested feeling during the spring, summer and autumn months, you may be suffering from hay fever. Hay fever is the popular name for allergic rhinitis. It affects between 10-30% of adults and as many as 40% of children in the UK. It can impact your sleep, making it difficult to stay awake and alert during the day.
What Causes Hay Fever?
Hay fever is caused by airborne allergens such as pollen, moulds and house dust mites. Hay fever is a seasonal illness that is most common during early spring and summer. Hay fever is caused by the body’s reaction to pollen, dust mites and moulds. When the body detects these allergens, it creates allergic antibodies which cause an inflammatory response.
Common Symptoms of Hay Fever
Hay fever is often mistaken for a cold due to the similarity of the symptoms. These symptoms include:
- Itchy eyes and/ or throat
- Blocked/ runny nose and sneezing
- Watery and/ or red eyes
- Blocked sinuses
- Shortness of breath
- Post-nasal drip
Symptoms will typically get more severe when the pollen count is higher. People who suffer from hay fever may be sensitive to certain types of pollen and other allergens, or they might be sensitive to all of them.
Grass pollen is the most common allergen, and it is most prevalent from May to July. Tree pollens can also cause allergies, and these are most common from February to June, and finally, weed pollen is most common from June to September. If your allergies come and go each year, this is known as seasonal rhinitis.
If you have allergies all the time, this is known as perennial allergic rhinitis. In this case, you would likely also be allergic to household allergens such as mould or house dust mites.
How to Treat Hay Fever with Medication
Medication to treat hay fever helps control the symptoms and the reaction but does not cure the underlying condition. Antihistamines are the most common type of anti-allergy medication.
Antihistamines have a reputation for causing drowsiness, but not all of them have this side-effect. Most antihistamines are available in a non-drowsy variety. But if you struggle to sleep at night due to your allergies, drowsy antihistamines can help.
Antihistamines work by blocking a substance called histamine in your body. Your body creates histamine when it detects something harmful, such as an infection. Your body can mistake harmless substances such as pollen for a threat and release histamine in response. Histamine causes swelling and expansion of blood vessels. This reaction leads to unpleasant side effects.
By blocking the histamine response, hay fever medication can help to control the symptoms.
Improving Hay Fever Symptoms
In addition to taking antihistamine medication once a day during allergy season, you can also make small changes to your lifestyle to help limit the impact of hay fever.
- Monitor the pollen count. You can see the pollen count for your local area on the weather report. The pollen count is a measurement of the number of pollen grains in a cubic metre of air.
- Avoid going outside when the pollen count is high. The pollen count is usually high on warm and dry days. Rain helps to wash pollen from the air.
- Shower and wash your hair after returning home on a high pollen count day. You should also change into new clothing.
- Avoid hanging your clothes and bedding outdoors to dry when the pollen count is high.
- Keep a symptom diary to help you to identify when your hay fever is worse. This can help you to identify the type of pollen you are allergic to.
- Keep your windows and doors closed in the evening.
- Put vaseline on your nostrils to help trap pollen.
Seeking Help for Hay Fever
Most people can manage their hay fever without intervention from their GP, however, there are some symptoms you should be aware of so you know when to seek help.
If you don’t find any relief from hay fever medication, speak to your GP. You should also see a GP if you or your child experience any of the following symptoms:
- You or your child are experiencing chronic sinus infections.
- You or your child are having difficulty breathing.
- You or your child also suffer from asthma.