Hay fever (Allergic Rhinitis)
Hay fever is the common term for seasonal allergic rhinitis. It is an allergy to pollen and mould spores. These substances attack the nose, throat and the eyes, causing an irritation and inflammation to the membranes.
Who gets it?
Roughly two to three million people suffer from hay fever each summer. Pollen from trees, plants and grasses is produced at different times and this affects the time of year when people will suffer. Tree blossom usually produces pollen in the spring, grasses and flowers have pollen in the summer, and mould spores are in the air in autumn. A tendency to suffer allergies is often hereditary. Hay fever sufferers are more prone to other conditions such as asthma and eczema.
What are the symptoms?
Hay fever is a chronic condition, characterised by frequent sneezing, runny or blocked nose, red, itchy and watery eyes. The symptoms vary and may last from days to weeks. They usually appear first in childhood and gradually disappear by the age of 30 to 40 years. Often there is itchiness in the roof of the mouth, loss of smell and taste, headache, dry and sore throat and sleep disturbance. These are signs of the immune system reacting to the pollen grains by producing histamine, which inflames the lining membranes of tissues.
How is it diagnosed?
Often it will be enough to tell the doctor when and where your symptoms occur. Skin tests and blood tests may help confirm the diagnosis.
What is the treatment?
It is important to try to avoid substances that provoke the allergic reaction. However, this can be impossible. Medicines that can be taken are:
*Antihistamine tablets to reduce the symptoms.
*Steroid nasal sprays to reduce inflammation.
*Preventative eye drops can be used daily throughout the pollen season.
*Severe hay fever may need to be treated by oral steroids. These will usually be given as a short course of tablets during severe attacks.
Some antihistamines may make you sleepy, it is important to tell your doctor if you operate or drive machinery. However most people can control their symptoms adequately with a nasal steroid, with or without oral histamine. These can be bought over the counter.
How to help yourself
* You can check for high pollen count in the newspaper, TV or radio.
* Avoid being outside in the summer between 5pm and 7pm ands keep windows and doors closed.
* Sleep with your windows closed.
* Avoid areas of long grass and mowing the lawn. If necessary, wear a mask and wrap-around sunglasses.
*Choose holidays by the sea or in the mountains where the pollen count is low.