An allergy occurs when our body has a bad reaction to an external substance. Hay fever, also called ?seasonal allergic rhinitis', is an allergic reaction to pollen. It causes inflammation of the nose, eyes, throat and sinuses. *The UK has one of the highest levels of hay fever in the world. The condition affects about 20-28% of the population, rising to 38% in teenagers.
Runny nose - Itchy & runny eyes - Sneezing
What causes Hay Fever?
When we have an allergy it means our immune system has misidentified something harmless as an attacker. As a result, it produces antibodies to detect and destroy the perceived threat. The next time we encounter the same trigger it repeats its attack producing yet more antibodies and chemicals released from cells in the nasal passages, airways and eyes. It's this that causes the sneezing, runny nose, itchy eyes. The most common trigger (allergen) is grass pollen which affects sufferers in May and July when the pollen is released. Some people are allergic to different pollens. A hay fever attack between February and June suggests an allergy to tree pollen, one that hits between September and October is mostly likely triggered by weed pollen. Some people are affected by more than one pollen - making the hay fever season very long.
How is Hay fever treated?
To avoid an attack it's best to minimise your contact with pollen. When the pollen count is high (checkable via the newspapers, weather forecasts and phone apps) stay indoors with the windows shut. If you have to go out, wear sunglasses to shield the eyes from pollen and avoid walking through fields. If possible, resist the urge to sneeze, blow your nose or rub your eyes to avoid irritating the area. Hay fever is usually treated with antihistamines available without prescription in tablet form or as a nasal spray. These act by blocking the action of the chemical histamine which causes allergy symptoms. The body releases histamine when it thinks it's under attack. Common antihistamines include certirizine, acrivastine and loratadine. A nasal decongestant can be bought to clear a blocked nose and eye drops to soothe itchy eyes. If your hay fever is not responding to antihistamines, a doctor can prescribe corticosteroids (steroids) nasal sprays, drops or tablets which have an anti-inflammatory effect. For severe hay fever a GP can refer a patient to a specialist allergy clinic for desensitisation (?immunotherapy') treatment whereby the person is exposed to tiny doses of the allergen to build up tolerance.
Acupuncture, homeopathy and herbal medicines are widely used to treat allergic conditions. Research on its effectiveness is limited.