Hayfever: why is it so bad and how can you make it stop?

A woman with hayfever blows her nose

Warm and dry weather means large swathes of the UK have been hit with particularly high pollen count

LAST UPDATED AT 13:07 ON Mon 23 Jun 2014

Britain has been enjoying warm temperatures this weekend, but for hayfever sufferers parks and green spaces were off-limits. For one in five people, the beautiful sunshine came with runny noses, sneezing and watering eyes, as a particularly high pollen count hit large swathes of the UK.

Why is the pollen count so high?
The combination of warm and dry weather has created the perfect conditions for releasing pollen, says The Independent. The winter was wet but warm, while the spring was mild with dry, sunny weather as well as showers. This means there has been a lot of plant growth this year, pushing up the 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.

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.

When will it stop?
A high-to-very-high grass pollen count is currently forecast for most regions in the UK – apart from the north of Scotland where it is milder. These levels are predicted to ease up the next time it rains, but this might not happen until the end of next week, says the Met Office. Even then, the South East is likely to retain the high counts. The grass pollen season normally 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.

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. · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.