How to improve hay fever symptoms

Dr Tara Dukkipati, a senior GP for Care UK in Essex, offers some advice on minimising the impact of hay fever and dispels some common misconceptions.

She said: “Hay fever (seasonal allergic rhinitis) is an allergy to air borne particles such as pollen and fungal spores that affects up to one in five people at some point in their life. It causes itching, sneezing, itchy and runny nose, blocked sinuses, sore and watery eyes, tiredness, and headaches amongst other symptoms. Most hay fever symptoms can be managed easily through self-care without the need for a GP appointment or a prescription.

“Hay fever season or pollen season is normally from March to August but it can start in January and last until November. Some people find that they react to specific types of pollen, for example grass or tree pollen which flower at different times of the year. In addition, we are also seeing high levels of ‘super pollen’ caused when pollen combines with environmental pollution that can cause severe hay fever symptoms and trigger asthma.

“The best approach to avoid hay fever is to stay indoors when the pollen count is high which can be miserable when you want to be out and about enjoying clear blue skies and sunny parks with fresh air. You can check the pollen counts in your area through The Met Office website.

“Most weather forecasts in the summer now mention the pollen count. In addition, there are also specific hay fever apps that are free and easy to download to your phone that give you live pollen updates and offer personalised treatment plans.

“If it’s necessary to go outside when the count is high, wear wraparound sunglasses to protect the eyes, rub Vaseline just inside your nostrils to keep the pollen out, change clothes and take a shower after returning home to remove any pollen that has attached itself to your clothes, hair or skin.

“Hay fever sufferers often need to be armed with a kit of effective medication which can include anti-histamine tablets or capsules, eye drops and steroid nasal drops or sprays, nasal decongestants and other therapies. Your local pharmacist is best placed and easily accessible to advise and help you chose the treatment options most appropriate for you so should always be your first port of call.

“People who know they usually suffer from hay fever should ideally start taking any medication before it starts to prepare the immune system in advance. This can help minimise the symptoms as it is harder to manage the allergies once the symptoms have started. It is important to remember that some anti-histamine medicines can make you drowsy, which is ideal if you are after a good night’s sleep but not if you are driving or doing anything that could affect your safety

“Ideally choose the newer, non-sedating antihistamines – speak to your local pharmacist for advice. If you then find that you have persistent; severe hay fever symptoms that cannot be managed with over the counter medication, then it’s time to speak to your family GP.

“People who have hay fever are also at risk of developing asthma. In people with asthma or other lung diseases hay fever symptoms can be severe and they do need to seek medical advice for the best way to manage seasonal allergies.

“Regular exercise, reducing stress, cutting down on alcohol and a healthy diet, have all been shown to improve hay fever symptoms.”