Summer’s arrival is bittersweet. On one hand, it’s great to be outdoors, enjoy the sunshine and soak up that nourishing vitamin D. On the other, the summer weather brings a fated foe—hay fever.
During the summer months, pollen counts are up. While this sparks a field day for bees, it also causes stuffy noses and other discomforting symptoms for humans. For those who suffer from allergic rhinitis—that’s hay fever to you and me—summer can be a frustrating time of year.
The UK: A nation of allergies?
The UK is an allergy-prone nation, with more than 20 percent of the population affected by one or more allergic disorder.1 What’s more, a staggering 44 percent of British adults now suffer from at least one allergy and the number of sufferers is on the rise, growing by around two million between 2008 and 2009 alone. And almost half (48 percent) of sufferers have more than one allergy.2
By far the most common, however, is hay fever. The condition affects between 10 and 30 percent of all adults and as many as 40 percent of children.3 People who have eczema and asthma often suffer from hay fever too. And those who have allergic rhinitis all year round can find their symptoms get much worse in pollen season.
Luckily for most of us, hay fever is a manageable condition whose symptoms flare up at certain times in the year. So, what can alleviate the bothersome symptoms of this largely seasonal ailment?
First of all, it’s important to understand what causes it.
What is pollen count and how does it affect hay fever?
Hay fever symptoms flare up when the nationwide pollen count is high. But what exactly is pollen count, and how does it affect hay fever symptoms?
‘The UK’s pollen count is the measurement of the number of grains of pollen in a cubic meter of air,’ explains GP Dr Lizzie Kershaw-Yates. ‘In the UK, the Met Office provides a 5-day forecast for pollen and this can really help you if you are a hay fever sufferer.’
Pollen, an allergen, initiates an inflammatory pathway, which causes eyes to stream and nasal passages to become engorged with mucus, divulges Dr Kershaw-Yates.
So the enemy is pollen. But where should hay fever sufferers avoid to minimise their pesky symptoms?
Where to avoid if you suffer from hay fever
To reduce your hay fever from flaring up, Dr Kershaw-Yates advises: ‘Depending on the time of year and what causes your hay fever, try to avoid areas where the plants are surrounding you.
‘So, for example, if grass is your hay fever trigger try not to sit in the long grass. Or, if you want to go somewhere with lots of triggers, wear sunglasses to avoid the pollen getting in your eyes, use a steroid nasal spray and an oral antihistamine.’
She adds: ‘Pollen counts tend to be lower at the seaside, which is a good option on a sunny day.’
Do some plants pose a greater risk than others?
Hay fever affects different people in different ways. Dr Kershaw-Yates describes how certain ‘triggers’ can set you off and these factors can vary depending on the time of year. ‘The pollen season separates into three main sections,’ she counsels. ‘You may be allergic to all of them or only a couple.’
Tree pollen is worse from late March to mid-May; grass pollen is highest from mid-May to July, and weed pollen is at its height from the end of June to September. The key is to know what sets your hay fever off and prepare accordingly.
Are there any natural remedies for hay fever?
Most people who suffer from allergies treat their symptoms with an oral antihistamine. But do alternative treatment methods exist? And, more importantly, do they work?
‘Using barrier methods such as Vaseline around the nostril can help stop the entry of the pollen,’ Dr Kershaw-Yates expounds. ‘Natural honey from the area where you live is meant to decrease your symptoms of hay fever in your local area. And chamomile teabags are meant to have some effect and you can use the cold teabags on your eyes to relieve symptoms. However, I am not sure how effective these natural remedies are.’
Advice given by Dr Lizzie Kershaw-Yates, GP and medical team member at TheOnlineClinic
1M. L. Levy, 2004, ‘Inadequacies in UK primary care allergy services: national survey of current provisions and perceptions of need’, Clinical & Experimental Allergy
2Mintel, 2010, ‘Mintel’s Allergy and Allergy Remedies UK’, Foods Matter
3Pawankar R, C. G., 2013, The WAO White Book on Allergy