What is hay fever?
Hay fever is an allergic reaction to environmental allergens such as pollens, dust mites, moulds and animal hair. The immune system treats a harmless substance as if it is dangerous and launches an attack against the substance. The nasal passages become inflamed and more mucus is produced. Eyes become itchy and watery.
Most people associate hay fever with spring when airborne pollens from grasses are at their peak, but hay fever can occur at any time of the year.
What are the symptoms of hay fever?
Symptoms include – sneezing; runny or congested nose; itchy ears; red, itchy or watery eyes; headaches.
Other symptoms include:
• Poor sleep, daytime tiredness and inability to concentrate
• Recurrent ear infections in children
• Recurrent sinus infections in adults
• Asthma which is more difficult to control
How common is hay fever?
• It affects around 18% of people (children and adults) in Australia and New Zealand.
• Around 1 in 4 people with hay fever also have asthma.
What treatments are available?
Some medications may help relieve the symptoms of hay fever -
• Intranasal steroid sprays – They need to be used regularly as directed to be effective.
• Saline nasal sprays.
• Antihistamine medications – to help control sneezing and itching.
• Eye drops – lubricating or antihistamine.
• Decongestant nasal sprays – should not be used for more than a few days.
• Desensitisation or allergen immunotherapy reduces the severity of symptoms and/or the need for regular medications. It involves the administration of regular, gradually increasing amounts of allergen. Treatment is for 3-5 years. It should be initiated by a clinical immunology/allergy specialist.
What are some avoidance strategies?
Avoiding allergic triggers is the best way to reduce the frequency of hay fever symptoms but that is really difficult.
Suggestions to prevent or limit symptoms of hay fever include:
• Check the pollen count forecast on specialised mobile apps and websites.
• Stay indoors as much as possible in spring on windy days or after thunderstorms.
• In your garden, choose plants that are pollinated by birds or insects, rather than plants that release their seeds into the air.
• Replace your lawn with artificial grass, bricked or paved areas.
• Splash your eyes often with cold water to flush out any pollen.
• Reduce your exposure to dust/dust mites, and animal dander/fur.
Is thunderstorm asthma associated with hay fever?
It seems reasonable to think that rain would relieve hay fever and asthma, by washing pollen out of the air. However, rain from thunderstorms can make some people’s symptoms worse – including hay fever and asthma symptoms. The symptoms of hay fever are as above and the symptoms of asthma are a cough, wheeze, or shortness of breath, or chest tightness. Grasses rely on the wind to distribute their pollen. Thunderstorm asthma is thought to be triggered by massive loads of pollen particles being released into the air. Thunderstorms that have rapid changes in wind, temperature and humidity, can make it worse.
When do I need to see my GP about it?
See your GP –
• If your symptoms of hay fever start to affect your quality of life.
• If you develop symptoms of infection such fever, or pain, or feel very unwell.
• If you develop symptoms of asthma, such as wheeze, shortness of breath, or a cough. If these symptoms are severe, you may need to go to the hospital.
• As there are treatments to help manage symptoms and make you feel better.
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