Four easy hay fever solutions can help you enjoy outdoors again
Nobody wants to sniffle their way through dinner dates and work meetings. Liz Connor considers some key triggers - and suggests some remedies
If summertime means continual itching and watery eyes, you're probably one of the 13 million people in the UK affected by hay fever.
We asked Lloyds Pharmacy pharmacist Pareena Patel to explain the top four triggers.
There's a reason your nose starts tingling as the weather warms: grass, weed and tree pollen is released as part of the plant reproductive cycle. The airborne powdery substance contains proteins that can prompt allergic reactions when breathed in by some.
"Pollen usually is the biggest trigger for those who experience hay fever symptoms," says Patel, "and if you have an allergic reaction to it, it causes your immune system to overreact and produce a compound called histamine."
The histamine irritates and inflames nose, eyes and throat, causing symptoms like those of the common cold.
Grass pollen, common from around May to June, is the most common plant-based allergen, but tree pollen can cause grief too. It affects fewer people, but has a longer season - from February to June.
Symptoms can be worse if you have asthma, as your airways may already be swollen.
The first line of hay fever treatment is an oral anti-histamine - most are available from a pharmacy without prescription, but it's a good idea to ask the pharmacist if they're suitable for you.
"Air pollution is increasingly prevalent in the UK, which can be another big trigger for hay fever," says Patel.
"Dust, soot, diesel and traffic fumes can all quickly irritate your airways and trigger hay fever," warns Patel. "If pollution is a trigger for you, you'll need to make sure you check pollution levels before you leave the house."
You can check pollution in your area on the Met Office website (metoffice.gov.uk). Patel says it's also a good idea to try to avoid places such as busy car junctions, bus stops and car parks on high pollution days - take the scenic route to work instead. A couple of key products in your handbag could also help. "Drug-free therapy such as the LloydsPharmacy Allergy Reliever (£19.99, lloydsPharmacy.com) can help alleviate symptoms naturally," suggests Patel. "There are also a range of eye-drops that contain the active ingredient sodium cromoglicate, such as Opticrom Hayfever Eye Drops (£5.75, superdrug.com) and LloydsPharmacy Allergy & Hayfever Eye Drops (£4.79, lloydsPharmacy.com). As always though, you should speak to your pharmacist."
3. Dust mites
If you have itchy eyes and dry throat outside the sneeze season, it might not be hay fever but a reaction to the creepy crawlies in your bed.
"Dust mites can be bothersome all year to people who suffer with hay fever, aggravating symptoms because they cause an additional allergic reaction," says Patel.
House dust mites are so small they can't be seen with the naked eye. They live in every home, most commonly in pillows, mattresses, carpets and soft furnishings, but can be found on clothing too.
If you find yourself suffering, it's a good idea to regularly wash bedding in very hot water (over 50C) and wear a mask during a spring clean, as this stirs up the dust particles, making them easier to inhale.
If you've been putting off fixing the mouldy grouting in your bathroom, here's a good reason to get started.
"Moulds are a type of fungus which can cause an allergic reaction either on their own or aggravate allergies such as hay fever," says Patel.
Your immune system reacts when you breathe in the tiny seeds (called spores) in the air and the symptoms usually cause a reaction to the eyes, nose, throat and lungs.
Wet weather combined with heat favours mould growth, and sunny, windy weather can encourage spore release - so try to prevent mould and mildew build up in the home and invest in an air purifier, which can help trap mould spores from your living space.