Bad hayfever: how can you make it stop?

Jul 2, 2015

Allergy sufferers warned that pollen levels are rising to 'very high' levels this week

PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images

Britain has been enjoying record temperatures this week, but for hay fever sufferers parks and green spaces are off-limits. For one in five people, the beautiful sunshine comes with runny noses, sneezing and watering eyes as a particularly high pollen count spreads across large swathes of the UK.

Why is the pollen count so high?

The warm and humid conditions bring a high pollen count. Grass pollen – which affects 95 per cent of hay fever sufferers – is particularly bad at this time of year, with pollen counts highest in the early morning and after 4.00pm. In southern and central regions the temperatures are warm enough that pollen is currently being released all night, says NetWeather. "The risk will be lowest during the middle of the day in the hottest areas because grasses close their flowers at temperatures over 28 degrees celsius."

When will it stop?

The pollen risk will continue to be "high or very high" across most of the country over the next few days, according to NetWeather. Generally, the grass pollen season lasts from mid-May until July. Tree pollen is usually released from late March to mid-May, while the weed pollen season lasts from the end of June to September.

What causes hayfever?

Hayfever, also known as seasonal allergic rhinitis, is a reaction to pollen from grasses, weeds or trees, carried in the air usually during the spring and summer. In some people, the pollen causes the body's immune system to mount an attack, as if it were being invaded by harmful bacteria or virus. The body releases histamine into the bloodstream, causing a runny nose, sneezing and watering eyes.

Who suffers from hayfever?

Hayfever tends to run in the family and people are more likely to develop it if they already suffer from asthma, eczema or food allergies. For some, symptoms develop in childhood, but many adults can suddenly develop them later on. The number of hayfever sufferers has doubled over the last 20 years, but experts are not certain why. Allergy specialist Professor Stephen Durham says: "There's some evidence that pollution exacerbates it... And you've also got 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."

How can hayfever be stopped?

Long-term hayfever sufferers will be well aware that there is no cure, but over-the-counter antihistamines, nasal sprays and eye drops can provide some relief. In an ideal world, the most effective way to control hayfever would be to avoid exposure to pollen. While acknowledging that it is not always possible, the NHS recommends keeping doors and windows closed, vacuuming regularly, avoiding grassy areas, wearing wrap-around sunglasses to keep pollen out of your eyes, showering after going outside and drying clothes indoors. Using a cream or balm such as Vaseline inside your nostrils can also reduce the amount of pollen that gets into your nose. Experts recommend avoiding alcohol as it contains histamine and avoiding smoking as it can irritate the lining of the nose, eyes, throat and airways.

Are you taking your medication correctly?

Research by Allergy UK shows that almost two in three hayfever sufferers find their current medication ineffective – while only 14 per cent of people using steroid nasal spray were using it correctly.

Maureen Jenkins, Director of Clinical Services at the charity, urged people to seek medical advice to check whether they are using their medication correctly rather than just "soldiering on and prolonging their suffering".

The NHS recommends that antihistamines are taken regularly, not just on the "odd days" when hayfever symptoms are at their worst. "They work better if you take them right through the hayfever season," says the health service. It can also be helpful to start taking the medication two weeks before symptoms occur, if you know what time of year you suffer most.

For steroid nasal sprays, you need to tip your head forward and spray towards the outside of the nose, says the NHS. A seawater nasal spray can also help clean out nasal passages before the treatment. "Nasal sprays containing decongestants may be useful on the worst days or for additional relief of congestion for an exam or special occasion," it adds. But it says these should not be used regularly as they cause rebound congestion after a few days' use, making symptoms worse.

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