Fifteen tips to manage hay fever
Summer can herald pure hell for its sufferers. Dr Jean Emberlin, leading pollen expert, on easing the symptoms.
1. Getting information
The most important tip is to talk to a pharmacist or GP about treatments such as antihistamines, eye drops, and corticosteroid nasal sprays. In most cases, medication and treatments can control symptoms. If you have severe hay fever, your GP may refer you to a specialist. If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or need, or prefer, to avoid medications with active ingredients for other reasons, there are remedies such as cellulose nose sprays that have been clinically tested and can help to alleviate the symptoms.
2. Know your enemy
Research indicates that most hay fever sufferers do not know which type of pollen they are allergic to. Keep a diary of symptoms and match the occurrence of the symptoms against a pollen calendar to try to identify the main culprits. This will help you to avoid exposure to your trigger pollen types.
Take note of pollen forecasts (TV, radio or websites) to find out when seasons are starting, when high pollen count days will occur and when seasons end. Remember that grass pollen counts are often highest in the early morning and evening. This will help you to plan your day, avoid high pollen counts and be prepared with appropriate treatments.
4. Pollen hotspots
Know where the best and worst places are for exposure to pollen. Obviously, try to avoid places with flowering grass, such as parks or areas with uncut grasses. Also avoid areas where grass is being cut, as this disturbs the pollen on surfaces and the cut grass stems release allergen which gets airborne and can trigger symptoms. Uplands, moorlands and coastal areas tend to have lower pollen counts. Inland areas, especially lowlands, tend to have higher pollen counts.
Try to avoid places with air pollution, especially areas with traffic fumes. Air pollution from traffic can decrease quite rapidly away from the main roads, especially if there are lines of vegetation, as these act as filters. Ozone and nitrogen oxides (NOx) from exhaust fumes can affect the function of the mucous membranes in the respiratory tract, causing irritation, slowing the removal of dirt and allergenic particles from the nose and respiratory tract. The irritant action of ozone can result in itching, coughing and stinging eyes and diesel particles can enhance the action of allergens.
6. Stress busters
Take measures to reduce your stress levels: the stress hormone, cortisol, can cause reactions that make your symptoms worse. Regular exercise will encourage the release of endorphins, as well as give your mind a break from whatever is causing the stress. Spending time with family and friends who do not cause you stress and looking after yourself physically will also help lower stress levels.
7. Air time
Fresh air is good for you: do not stop going outside completely, just avoid times when the pollen count is at its highest. When outside, make sure you are prepared by carrying tissues, a bottle of water and your medication or treatment with you. Wearing sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat can help keep pollen away from your face. Blow your nose gently to remove the pollen grains from your respiratory system.
Do not hang laundry outside on high pollen count days, because this allows pollen to cling to the fabric. Instead, hang clothing on an indoor clothes dryer or tumble dry.
9. Wash up
Change your clothes, wash your hair and rinse your eyes after being outside to get rid of any pollen. If your children suffer from hay fever, encourage them to wash their hands and face after they have been outside. Pollen can also be brought indoors on pets, in their fur or hair and on paws. Brush or wipe them down with a damp towel after they have been outside.
Eat a balanced and varied diet rich in vitamins and minerals to help boost your immune system. Keep hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Avoid drinking alcohol (or have only small amounts). Alcohol can lead to dehydration, which can make symptoms worse and it also impacts on the immune system.
Avoid cigarettes and smoky environments, as the smoke will irritate your respiratory passages and nose and will make your symptoms worse.
Close the windows: keep pollen out of your home, workplace and your car by shutting the windows or use pollen screens to maintain ventilation. Choose a car with a pollen filter and make sure it is maintained.
Keep your home as free of dust as possible. Pollen allergens can remain active in household dust for months and can persist long after the pollen season has ended. Use a damp cloth for dusting and use a vacuum with a good filter system, for example, awarded the Seal of Approval by Allergy UK).
It is a good idea to avoid indoor swimming pools if you have hay fever. The chlorine used in pools can irritate your respiratory tract and make your hay fever symptoms worse. If you do use an indoor pool, wear goggles to decrease irritation to the eyes and shower well afterwards.
15. Sitting still
If you have time, a cost-free way of getting respite from pollen exposure is to close the doors and windows of a room and sit still (read or watch television). Any pollen will fall out of the still air in about 15 minutes, leaving you pollen-free air to breathe. You can also get rid of airborne pollen by using an air purifier. Some have ionisers, so be aware of what these do by talking to suppliers and looking online.