March on, hay fever!

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March is here - hurrah - which means we’re finally getting closer to spring. But if the new month has brought on a spate of sneezing, you might be wondering why.

According to Allergy UK nurse advisor, Holly Shaw, it could be an allergic reaction to tree pollen.

‘Different types of tree pollen are released throughout the year. There are three main pollen seasons; tree, grass and weed. Grass pollen affects the majority of hay fever sufferers. Pollen season for trees is usually March-May, but can vary year to year,’ explains Shaw.

According to Allergy UK, approximately 25% of hay fever sufferers are allergic to birch trees, including alder and hazel, whose main pollen season is between April and May. Pollen counts in areas populated by birch trees will be highest on warm, dry days with a mild wind.

SYMPTOMS

Around 18 million people in the UK are thought to suffer from hay fever, and it can develop in later life.

Research by allergy specialist Professor Stephen Durham found the number of sufferers had doubled over a 20-year period, which, he told the BBC, could be down to pollution or the ‘hygiene hypothesis’ - ‘that our bodies aren’t as strong because we aren’t exposed to infections when we are small children that our systems rebel against’.

Shaw says: ‘Symptoms of hay fever are commonly sneezing, itching and a runny nose, itchy eyes causing redness and watering, and a blocked or stuffy nose or sinuses, which may affect sleep.

‘Sometimes patients may confuse their symptoms with a common cold and not realise it’s hay fever,’ she adds. ‘People who have allergic rhinitis (hay fever) are also at risk of developing asthma. It is common for patients with hay fever to also have asthma.’

TREATMENT

It’s a good idea to see a health professional (GP/pharmacist) to discuss your symptoms, so you can be sure that it is actually hay fever you have, and not something else. This way, you can be sure you’re getting the appropriate advice and treatment. Pharmacists are well placed and easily accessible for advice on hay fever management and product selection.

There are many ways to treat hay fever symptoms, but avoidance and reduction of exposure is very important. Techniques can include wearing wraparound sunglasses to avoid pollen exposure to the eyes, applying a nasal allergen barrier balm to act as a pollen trap, not drying washing outside, washing/showering after being outside, and closing windows in the car/home to prevent pollen coming inside.

Initial treatment is usually the use of a non-sedating daily antihistamine, which can be taken in the form of tablets or syrups/solutions for children.

Depending on individual symptoms, nasal sprays (containing antihistamines and/or steroids), saline nasal douches (which wash out the nasal passages) and eye drops may help with symptom management.

:: For more information on hay fever and allergic rhinitis, visit www.allergyuk.org

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