What is Hay Fever, and why do we experience this in Spring?


3 minutes

08 October 2020

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Last updated:

Bees are buzzing, magpies are swooping, and some of us are sneezing. A lot. Welcome to hay fever season.

Hay fever is also called allergic rhinitis. As the name suggests, it’s an allergic reaction to environmental factors (called allergens) such as pollens, dust mite, moulds and animal hair1. When these allergens find their way to the nose or eyes, an immune response is triggered. The nasal passages become inflamed and excessive mucus is produced, causing sneezing and a runny nose.

The allergens can affect other areas as well. If they get in the eyes, they can become red, itchy or watery. The nose, throat and even the ears can become itchy. Severe cases can cause headaches and a general feeling of being unwell. Concentration and sleep can also be affected.

Spring is peak pollen season

Hay fever can affect people any time of the year, but spring is when a lot of sufferers start to reach for the tissue box.

Trees, grasses and shrubs are often in flower and spreading their pollen. Some spread their pollen by insects or animals, but it’s the wind pollinating plants that cause the greatest discomfort to hay fever sufferers.

"Pollen allergies can be worse on hot, dry days when the wind carries the pollen,” says Pharmacy 777 Pharmacist Lee Ross.

"Tree pollen is more common in the early spring, while grass pollen is more common in late spring and summer,” says Ross.

Depending on your level of discomfort, there are some effective ways to manage hay fever.

  1. Avoid the triggers

    Avoiding hay fever triggers is a way to manage hay fever without medication.

    "Stay indoors particularly during pollen season and on windy days,” says Ross.

    "Rinsing your nasal passages with distilled, sterile saline (nasal irrigation) is a quick, inexpensive and effective way to relieve nasal congestion. It also flushes out mucus and allergens from your nose,” he says.

    Wraparound sunglasses may prevent allergens from getting in your eyes and showering and rinsing your eyes can also reduce exposure to allergens.

  2. Antihistamines

    "Antihistamines are effective in reducing the symptoms associated with hay fever. They’re especially helpful in reducing itching, sneezing and a runny nose,” says Ross.

    Antihistamines block histamine, a chemical released by your immune system during an allergic reaction. By blocking the body’s response to this chemical, antihistamines reduce the severity of the reaction and ease the symptoms of hay fever.

  3. Intranasal corticosteroid sprays

    Intranasal corticosteroid sprays are considered the most effective overall treatment for hay fever. They contain a low dose of steroid, which helps reduce the swelling and mucus in the nasal passageway.

    However, it can take up to two weeks to get the full benefit from the treatment so intranasal corticosteroids will not provide immediate relief from symptoms.

  4. Decongestant sprays

    Decongestant sprays unblock and dry the nose. Usually good for quick relief, but only for short term as they can damage the lining of the nose.

  5. Immunotherapy

    If hay fever is affecting your way of life or you continuously rely on medication, immunotherapy may be a viable treatment option. Immunotherapy involves a clinical allergy specialist repeatedly introducing small doses of allergen extracts via injection or drops under the tongue over several years, to desensitise the body to the allergen.

Hay fever can’t be cured but can be managed. To avoid sneezing and itchy eyes, check the weather forecast before venturing outside. If it’s going to be a dry, windy spring day, put on your sunnies or stay inside. Many weather websites and apps report the daily pollen count.  By being prepared, you can reduce the symptoms of hay fever and still smell the roses.

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This article contains general information only and does not take into account the health, personal situation or needs of any person. In conjunction with your GP or treating health care professional, please consider whether the information is suitable for you and your personal circumstances.

1 Better Health - Hay fever (2020)