While the end of winter is for sure a cause for celebration, for up to 1 in 5 Brits it can also mark the beginning of hay fever season: a time of runny noses, itchy eyes, sneezes, and general discomfort.
The term ‘hay fever season’ actually encapsulates three different hay fever seasons. From late March to mid-May, tree pollen is usually to blame for hay fever symptoms, while grass pollen (which is what affects most hay fever sufferers) usually poses a problem from May to July, and weed pollen from June to September.
Hay fever, also called ‘allergic rhinitis’ or ‘seasonal rhinitis’ is an allergic reaction that occurs when a person’s immune system overreacts to pollen in the air. The symptoms of hay fever could be mistaken for symptoms of a common cold, but the former usually has elements of itchiness to it that a cold rarely does.
So if you do suffer from hay fever, what is there to do about it?
The first step is usually to take antihistamines, which block the action of histamine (the chemical released by the immune system which is responsible for the reaction). Antihistamines come in several formats (e.g. as a tablet or an oral spray) and are available without a prescription. They can be taken to relieve symptoms and also as a preventative measure, so on days or weeks where the pollen count is high you might want to consider taking an antihistamine sometime beforehand to minimise how strongly your body reacts to the pollen in the air.
The above-mentioned “pollen count” measures the number of grains of pollen in a cubic meter of air. By monitoring the pollen count and reducing (or even eliminating) the time spent outside on a day with a high pollen count you reduce your exposure and the chances of having a reaction. In general, pollen is at its highest early in the morning and late in the evening, so you may benefit from scheduling your outdoor activities in such a way that you avoid these peak times. Cooler, wet days are the best option, though on other days you may find it helpful to wear wraparound sunglasses to stop pollen getting in your eyes and to put vaseline around your nostrils to trap pollen.
As hay fever sufferers may know, pollen gets everywhere; hair, skin, clothes, etc. During hay fever season, it is recommended to wash your face, body, and hair when you come in from the outdoors to remove any pollen. You may even find it helpful to wash your pet more often if you have one!
Other tips to try at home include keeping the windows closed on days with a high pollen count, vacuuming more often, cleaning surfaces with a damp cloth, and also avoiding drying clothes outside on a day with a high pollen count.
Watching your alcohol consumption is another thing you might want to consider. Firstly because combining alcohol with antihistamines that cause drowsiness can cause even more drowsiness, but also because alcohol often contains histamines. There isn’t much point in taking an antihistamine if you’re then going to ingest histamines through a drink!
All in all, hay fever can be a very annoying condition, but it is definitely manageable! There are lots of measures you can take to reduce your symptoms, such as taking antihistamines and minimising your exposure to pollen, so don’t let hayfever prevent you from enjoying the wonders of spring and summer!