WHAT IS HAY FEVER?
Hay fever is the most common seasonal non-infectious allergy in the UK, affecting between up to 30% of all adults and nearly 40% of children.(https://waojournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1939-4551-7-12) The Met Office have recently reported that 1 in 5 of the UK population will suffer from hay fever symptoms in 2019.
Clinically referred to as Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis, Hay fever is an allergy that is caused by different types of pollen grains that are spread during a particular season. The symptoms of hay fever occur wherever there is a sensitivity to pollen, triggering the release of histamines which creates an inflammatory response to protect the endangered area.
Unlike certain allergies to fur or certain materials, hay fever isn’t usually prevalent throughout the year and is dependent on the pollen count in the air, and the underlying weather conditions. In the UK this is usually from March, all the way through to October. The dawn of Spring usually brings the most dense spread of pollen (or peak release period), given the arrival of fresh grass, new plants and flowers being pollinated.
In the UK this is usually from March, all the way through to October, however, moderate pollen release can be active from late January. The dawn of Spring usually brings the most dense spread of pollen, given the arrival of fresh grass, new plants and flowers being pollinated.
There are three main phases during the pollen season in the UK, with the peak release period for each spread being different. During each phase, different types of pollen will be released from plants, trees and weeds:
- Tree Pollen: This phase begins its peak release in February and constitutes the most types of pollen from different types of trees like Hazel, Alder and Willow. It lasts until June thanks to Lime and Pine tree pollen, overlapping with the other two phases. PEAK POLLEN RELEASE – March to May
- Grass Pollen: Typically the longest lasting phase, occurring anywhere between April and September. PEAK POLLEN RELEASE – May to July
- Weed Pollen: Much like the grass pollen phase, weeds like oilseed rape and nettle release their pollen between April and September, with their peak release period being during the summer months, hence overlapping with the other two phases. PEAK POLLEN RELEASE – July to September
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF HAY FEVER?
The rise in pollen activity has a direct impact on hay fever sufferers, causing typical allergic reaction symptoms like sneezing, red and itchy eyes, coughing and fatigue. Recent years have seen new types of pollen in the air, thereby creating new hay fever sufferers (who may have never experienced it before) and exacerbating the symptoms of pre-existing sufferers.
WHAT IS THE CAUSE OF HAY FEVER?
Hay fever is triggered by the spread of allergens, specifically pollen, during the early stages of Spring all the way through to the end of Autumn.
When an allergen like pollen comes into contact with someone who is either intolerant to pollen or allergic to it, your immune system will recognise it as a potential threat and react naturally to protect you against it.
If your immune system develops a sensitivity to pollen, it will be reacted by producing specific antibodies called immunoglobulin E (IgE). Whenever you come into contact with pollen by way of your throat, eyes or nose, these antibodies will cause cells in your body to release a chemical called Histamine. Ordinarily, the histamine from these cells would come into play in order to fight infection. Due to the increased presence of allergens, the cells recognise the risk and become overly sensitive. The subsequent release of Histamine is what causes the typical symptoms of an allergic reaction like hay fever such as sneezing, a blocked or runny nose or itchy eyes.
WHO IS AT RISK OF HAY FEVER?
Hay fever can affect anyone at any stage of their life and it is not yet fully understood why certain individuals develop sensitivity to allergens such as pollen.
It is widely accepted that your environment will affect your susceptibility to developing allergies, with a number of studies showing the link between allergies and growing up in dusty, smoke-filled environments.
Studies have also shown that if you have a history of allergies in your family, you may be more susceptible to suffer from hay fever at some stage.
If there is a history of allergic sensitivity in your family, it is clinically referred to as “atopy.” People who have atopy will have a genetic predisposition to develop allergic conditions like hay fever. This is due to the heightened immune response in your body when reacting to allergens such as pollen, resulting in an above normal production of antibodies (IgE).
HOW DO I TREAT HAY FEVER?
Sufferers of hay fever are largely at the mercy of environmental and seasonal conditions that are out of our control. For those of us who suffer from the symptoms during hay fever season, we are at the mercy of the dreaded UK pollen count, especially if our jobs or lifestyle require us to spend to time outside in nature. Avoiding the allergens during these months can be almost impossible. The symptoms and their severity can vary from person to person. In particularly bad cases, hay fever can make everyday life very difficult, with endless bouts of sneezing, itchy eyes and fatigue.
Fortunately, there are a number of different types of prescription hay fever treatments options available that can help to alleviate the discomfort and allow you to function normally.
How do antihistamines work?
Antihistamines function by preventing the inflammatory response caused by sensitivity to pollen and the subsequent release of histamines. They are fast-acting (effective within 30 minutes) and in the case of certain medications can be taken in anticipation of hay fever season.
HOW CAN I PREVENT HAY FEVER?
During hay fever season in the UK (between late February and late October) or whenever the pollen count is unusually high, it can be very difficult to avoid exposure to allergens, pollen or dust.
For many people that suffer from hay fever, it can be difficult to lead a normal life without being exposed to pollen. In the majority of cases, medication is the most efficient recourse. That being said, there are still a number of precautionary measures that you can take in order to mitigate the debilitating effects of hay fever:
- Wear sunglasses during the day to protect your eyes from pollen
- Keep an antipollution face mask with you
- Try to keep windows closed at home or in the car if you’re travelling
- Try to avoid gardening activities
- Monitor the regional UK pollen count
- Invest in a high quality air purifier for use at home, preferably one with a replaceable carbon filter. This can remove impurities, dust and pollen from your home.
- Reduce your alcohol intake. Nearly 95% of hay fever sufferers are allergic to grass pollen and alcoholic drinks contain histamines!