Hay fever or seasonal allergies can be caused by the pollen of numerous trees, grasses or plants and affects around 18 million people in the UK. Symptoms include an itchy and/or runny nose, sneezing and irritated, watery eyes. And it’s not only mid-summer that people suffer – as soon as trees start to come into leaf, many people start suffering. A stroll around Richmond Park can trigger a reaction!
If you’re unsure hay fever is causing your symptoms, see your GP. They may refer you for an allergen test to determine whether you’re allergic to pollen or other organic material such as animal hair or dust mites.
A skin prick test only tests for the most common allergens, so it may be inconclusive. Your skin is pricked and exposed to a tiny dose of allergen – it should react if you’re allergic.
A blood test for the Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibody, produced when you encounter pollen, may also be used.
Treating hay fever
Research by Allergy UK in 2014 showed that 62% of sufferers found their current medication ineffective, yet they failed to seek better alternatives or didn’t use it properly – only 14% of steroid nasal spray users were using them correctly in the study.
Antihistamines block the action of histamine, a chemical triggered by allergen exposure, to reduce or stop your allergic reaction. They may not relieve a blocked nose, but are usually effective against other symptoms. Some older antihistamines (e.g. chlorpheniramine, known as Piriton) make you drowsy and can affect your ability to do your job or drive. However, most people now choose newer, non-sedating antihistamines (e.g. Loratadine).
Steroids are only usually used short-term if other medications aren’t working or if your hay fever causes or aggravates asthma. They reduce symptoms by reducing inflammation.
Decongestant nasal sprays unblock your nose but can cause rebound congestion after a few days, so only use them for occasional relief.
Steroid nasal sprays or drops prevent and reduce inflammation in the nasal lining and can help relieve eye itchiness, too.
Antihistamine nasal sprays relieve an itchy nose and reduce sneezing.
Antihistamine eyedrops reduce itchiness and watering.
Inhalers and Injections
If seasonal allergies cause or exacerbate asthma, you may be offered a steroid inhaler or reliever, such as salbutamol. Injectable medications may sometimes be recommended if steroids aren’t adequate. Monoclonal antibody treatments, such as Xolair, block a substance involved in allergic reactions.
If your symptoms are persistent or severe, your doctor may suggest immunotherapy to progressively build allergen immunity.
Reduce pollen contact by avoiding drying washing outside, showering before bed and closing windows.
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