Dr Trisha Macnair May 16, 2017

The green shoots of spring and early summer are always welcome. But for a growing number of people there's a price to pay or the arrival of warmer weather, longer, brighter days and blooming flowers - the misery of hay fever.

Also known as ‘seasonal allergic rhinitis’, hay fever is estimated to affect 18 million people in the UK - that’s about a quarter of the total population. Experts are even predicting that hay fever may affect as many as 45 per cent of us by 2030.

How are hay fever symptoms caused?

Typical symptoms, such as a runny or stuffy nose, sneezing and itchy, watery eyes are caused by an allergic reaction to the proteins found in pollen from a variety of plants.

When these particles come into contact with the moist surface lining of the mouth, nose or eyes, they trigger the release of histamine and other chemicals that can cause irritation and inflammation. While teenagers and young adults tend to suffer more, hay fever can affect any age and gender.

The typical pollen season varies from year to year and may start as early as January and end as late as November. Depending on when during the year your hay fever symptoms start, you may be allergic to a specific type of pollen.

Grass pollen is the main hay fever trigger in the UK, typically causing symptoms from May onwards;

• Around a quarter of people with hay fever may also be allergic to tree pollen, which appears earlier in the year, meaning that for some symptoms may have started as early as the end of March;

Pollen from weeds and spores from moulds are other triggers, although these usually appear in autumn.

What can I do to reduce my symptoms?

Unfortunately, it is impossible to remove pollen from the environment completely, so there’s no easy cure for hay fever. But there are many things that you can do to reduce your exposure to pollen, as well as to reduce your symptoms.

Figure out which types of pollen you are sensitive to

Try keeping a diary to compare the severity of symptoms of the daily pollen count for different plants found on the Met Office website during the pollen season (from March onwards) www.metoffice.gov.uk/health/public/pollen-forecast. If your symptoms are severe, your GP may send you for allergy testing. Once you know what is your personal trigger you can try to avoid it.

Check the pollen count

Identify high-risk (hot, dry and windy) days, when you should stay inside with the windows shut if possible. If you do go outside, wear ‘wrap-around’ sunglasses and apply a barrier balm made from beeswax around your nostrils to prevent pollen entering your nose.

Change your clothes

Shower and change your clothes as soon as you get back indoors and avoid hanging washing outside. An extra tip is to groom pets frequently to remove pollen from their fur.

Vacuum your home regularly

Give a house a good once over and clean surfaces with a damp cloth to collect dust and pollen.

Stock up on simple antihistamines

To ensure you’re armed against surprise attacks, stock up on simple antihistamines, which reduce the release of histamine. Your pharmacist can advise you on other treatments, though if your symptoms are severe talk to your GP, who may suggest nose or eye drops or refer you to a specialist centre.

Herbal helpers

• A daily teaspoon of honey produced locally (containing local pollens) is said to help gradually develop immunity.

• Try supplements of butterbur, turmeric or nettle, which all have an antihistamine effect.

• Gingko supplements may reduce the body’s reaction to allergens such as pollen. Quercetin has a similar effect. Good sources include red apples, onions and red wine.

• Liquorice root, taken as a tea, can also help to reduce nasal stuffiness.

What should I avoid?

1. Heavily polluted areas as much as possible when the pollen count is high, as chemicals, such as traffic fumes, can trigger a more severe reaction.

2. Fresh flowers or houseplants

3. Alcohol and second-hand cigarette smoke

4. Eye make-up and perfumes

Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.

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