As part of National Allergy Awareness Week, we’re commencing our allergy related blog articles with a season special: hay fever. In fact, one of the most common reasons for people to attend our private GP clinics this time of year, is for a helping hand coping with hay fever! Our doctors (many of whom have first-hand experience, as hay fever sufferers themselves!) are able to offer lots of information and advice on the area…
Hay fever is the lay used to describe a condition known medically as Allergic Rhinitis. For those of us who suffer from the condition (that’s about 1 in every 5 people, if you were wondering), the onset of summer can be a time of sheer misery. But being prepared for the onslaught of hay fever season can mean the difference between a miserable and a manageable (and even enjoyable) summer.
In this article, we explain why hay fever occurs, how you can recognise it, and what you can do to improve it.
So What is Hay Fever Anyway?
Well, it is a type of allergic rhinitis which is caused by exposure to pollen and spores. Allergic rhinitis means inflammation and swelling of the inside of your nose, following contact with an allergen (something that brings about an allergic reaction).
Now, the majority of people don’t usually have a major problem when coming into contact with pollen and spores, and therefore don’t suffer from hay fever. But for some of us, our bodies’ defence systems overreact to the harmful substances. So, when our bodies come into contact with pollen, special cells in our nose, mouth and eyes release a chemical called histamine – which triggers the unpleasant symptoms!
Hay fever is a common condition that is thought to affect about 20% of people, and, although it can’t be cured, there are a number of options available to relieve the symptoms.
Hay Fever Symptoms
Everybody has a different experience of hay fever. Your symptoms may be worse some years, and hardly noticeable in other years. The severity of your symptoms largely depends on the weather, which dictates how much pollen is produced and spread around. However, if you suffer from hay fever, you will likely have noticed the following symptoms at some point:
- Regular sneezing
- A runny or a blocked nose
- Red, streaming eyes
- Itchy eyes, nose, throat or ears
Less commonly, people experience:
- Loss of sense of smell
- A feeling of pressure or pain in the sinuses
Sometimes, hay fever sufferers experience headaches and a feeling of pressure or pain in the sinuses
Hay Fever Diagnosis
Getting a diagnosis can be a great relief if you have been suffering for a while, and it is also the starting point for gaining control of your symptoms, instead of letting them control you!
In most cases, your GP will be able to diagnose you, based on a detailed description of the type and timing of your symptoms. You may be asked other questions to rule out other causes of your symptoms, such as an infection.
If you are planning on seeing your GP, keeping a diary of your symptoms to bring to your appointment will help to speed things along.
If your hay fever cannot be diagnosed from your symptoms alone, you may have a test called a skin prick test. This involves the tester pricking the skin of your finger with a needle that has a tiny amount of an allergen on it. If you are allergic, your skin will show a reaction when the allergen enters your bloodstream.
Another option to aid diagnosis is a blood test that tests the level of IgE antibody in your system. If your blood test is positive, this can confirm that you have hay fever.
Hay Fever Prevention
As you can appreciate, it is impossible to avoid pollen and spores completely. But there are many things you can do to reduce your exposure to this allergen, and thus reduce your symptoms. Try these tips for starters:
- Avoid walking in areas where grass is being cut
- Avoid keeping fresh flowers in the house
- If you have been outside, change your clothes when you come indoors
- Try to stay inside (if possible) when the pollen count is highest
- Vacuum and dust regularly, and keep windows and doors shut (in the car too!)
- Do not allow smoking in your home
Some of these tips might seem a little difficult, but with some prior planning and effort, they are at least partially implementable, and they could really make the difference in your experience of pollen season! In addition to these tips, there are certain medical options you can choose, and we explain more about these in the next section.
To prevent hay fever, avoid keeping fresh flowers in your house
The best way to control allergies is to avoid the triggers (see above), but we understand that this can be difficult! There are a wide range of medications (some of which must be prescribed by your GP) that you can use to treat your symptoms. These include:
These medications block the action of the chemical histamine, which we mentioned earlier in this article. They are available in tablet form, or as a nasal spray. Antihistamines are good for treating an itch, but might not be so effective for a blocked nose.
These medications are widely used for a variety of conditions and work by reducing inflammation, thus reducing swelling of the lining of the nose.
Corticosteroids are more effective than antihistamine tablets at preventing and relieving nasal symptoms, including sneezing and congestion. They can also relieve itchy, watery eyes. They are most effective if you start using them a couple of weeks before your symptoms usually begin, and using them regularly gives the best result.
At London Doctors Clinic, we are able to provide the Kenalog (triamcinolone acetonide) intramuscular hay fever injection for patients suffering moderate to severe hay fever. Although this isn’t appropriate for everyone, it’s usually found to be very effective in tackling resistant hay fever.
3. Nasal Decongestants
A decongestant can relive a blocked nose, by reducing the swelling of the tiny blood vessels in the nose, making breathing easier. They should not be used for the long term, as they may actually worsen symptoms over time.
Nasal decongestants can be used to make breathing easier
4. Eye Drops
Antihistamine eye drops are available from your local pharmacy to treat the redness, itchiness and watering of the eyes that comes with hay fever. (Why not visit London Doctors Pharmacy for more information?).
This is used if your symptoms of hayfever are especially severe or long-lasting, and not relieved by the treatments above. Immunotherapy involves introducing you slowly to small amounts of the thing you are allergic to and monitoring your reaction under controlled conditions. The aim of this treatment is to increase your tolerance to the allergen (you will get used to larger amounts of it over time), but it must be carried out in specialist centres in case a serious allergic reaction occurs.
So, if you’re a regular hay fever sufferer on the look-out for a better way of managing the condition, look no further than London Doctors Clinic! Book in an appointment at any of our 9 London clinics and together we’ll tackle your hay fever head on, leaving you free to enjoy the pleasures that spring and summer has to offer! If you need a GP surgery, LDC is here for you!
By Melissa Dillon