SUMMER. That glorious time of year when everyone can crack out the sunglasses, peel off the woolies and get outdoors.
Yet for the 10 million hay fever sufferers in England, the “great British summertime” marks the beginning of months of misery.
Sneezing, itching, streaming and even wheezing — the symptoms can be debilitating for people with the common allergic condition.
Sports presenter John Inverdale even blamed hay fever for his controversial remarks about Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli when he said she was “never going to be a looker”.
He said: “I was feeling so ill. I had terrible hay fever. Your mind is going all over the place.”
Can hay fever be counted as a credible excuse for sexist remarks? Probably not, but the BBC presenter’s runny nose was something perhaps many fellow sufferers could empathasise with.
People usually develop hay fever in childhood or during the teenage years, but you can get it at any age. It is also more common in those people with a family history of allergy or a condition like asthma.
The symptoms of hay fever are caused when a person has an allergic reaction to pollen — a fine powder released by plants as part of their reproductive cycle.
In Britain, the main cause is grass pollen, but pollen from trees and other plants can also cause hay fever.
We’re currently in the peak season, May to September, but this can vary depending on the weather, the region of the country and to the type of pollen or spores in the air.
For example, hay fever that develops in February to March is likely to be caused by pollen from birch trees. Hay fever that develops in May to July is likely to be caused by pollen from grasses and flowers, while hay fever that develops in the autumn is likely to be caused by spores from fungi.
Gulamhusein Arsiwalla is a pharmacist at Heaton Medical Centre and says hay fever can affect the way people work, study and even drive.
Mr Arsiwalla, of Kamsons Pharmacy, said: “The severity of symptoms really do vary from person to person. We are in peak season so there are a lot more people coming in for treatment.
“Common symptoms of hay fever are sneezing and a blocked, itchy or runny nose. Eyes too can become itchy, as well as red, swollen and watery.
“Other symptoms include a headache, because of congestion and swelling of the sinuses, and tightness and wheeziness in the chest.
“Many people find that their symptoms improve, as they get older.
“There is currently no cure for hay fever but most people are able to relieve symptoms with treatment — many of which are available in their local pharmacy.”
Treatment options include:
- Antihistaminines — a drug that works directly on the cause of the allergy
- Nasal preparations
- Eye preparations
Pharmacies are the first stop for people with symptoms but if the symptoms are affecting your day-to-day routine or your breathing, it’s time to see your GP.
HOW TO REDUCE THE SYMPTOMS
- Wear sunglasses. It will help to reduce exposure of the eyes to pollen and reduce the glare of the sun that can add to any irritation of the eyes
- Change your clothes and take a shower after being outdoors to remove
- the pollen on your body
- Try to stay inside when the pollen count is high — newspapers and weather forecasts carry predictions of the pollen count.
- If in the car, keep the windows closed and, if fitted, use the air conditioner.
- Many modern cars now have a filter on the car's cooling system that helps trap pollen and spores in the air.
- Keep windows closed when you’re in bed at night to avoid breathing in pollen.
- Keep pollen and dust out of your home by vacuuming and damp-dusting regularly.
- Try to avoid areas, of high pollen concentration, such as gardens and park (especially if the grass has just been cut).