Sneezing, snuffling and itchy eyes can only mean one thing – since the end of the big freeze, we’ve been entering the big sneeze.
The hay fever season is upon us and rising pollen levels throughout the coming summer months will lead to misery for about 15 million people in the UK.
‘I think this year the season will be moderate to severe in terms of pollen intensity,’ predicts hay fever expert Dr Jean Emberlin, director of PollenUK.
‘There’ll be bad days when people will suffer from our two main allergenic trees, birch and oak, particularly from birch which affects a quarter of sufferers, but I think it’s unlikely to be a catastrophically bad year.’
Pollen’s effect – the higher the pollen count, the stronger the symptoms – is governed by the weather, she points out.
‘Wet weather dampens down pollen and makes it difficult for it to enter the air.’
Hay fever can develop at any age over about two years old, but typically starts in early adolescence or in early adulthood.
Research, included in a report by Emberlin, indicates that certain risk factors make it more likely to occur in certain people – those born during the peak pollen seasons or just before and those whose family has a history of allergies.
Where to turn to deal with symptoms, like itchy eyes, is really a question of severity.
Usually the first port of call is a pharmacist, although a doctor may be required for the most severe cases.
Of course, most hay fever sufferers will know what to do and be painfully aware of the ins and outs of the pollen problem.
But pharmacist Kate Toms, of Lloyds Pharmacy at the Pompey Centre, says people who have never suffered with hay fever can suddenly develop symptoms.
‘I started developing symptoms a couple of years ago and I can appreciate how people feel,’ she says.
She explains that pollen gets into the nose, throat and eyes and causes an allergic reaction in sufferers.
Pharmacists recommend antihistamines and dabbing a little Vaseline (or specific product for the job) around the nose, to trap the pollen before it enters.
Another tip is to avoid certain foods, including apples, tomatoes, bananas and celery, which seem to make the problem worse.