Dr Shona Lockie is a GP at Water Meadow Surgery in Chesham and Clinical Director for the Medicines Management Team at NHS Buckinghamshire Clinical Commissioning Group.
Every year it feels like it might be getting worse, as too many of us sneeze and sniff our way toward the summer months…
So, what is hay fever? It’s a common condition in the UK, affecting one in five, caused when the body overreacts to allergens, like pollen, from grass or flowers. It usually hits in the spring and early summer (now is a prime time), leaving people with symptoms like sneezing, itchy eyes, runny or blocked noses. The severity of symptoms varies from person to person.
This year the situation is worse than usual, thanks to the so-called ‘pollen bomb’ – a simultaneous release of pollen from various sources, including birch, plane and oak trees, which seems to have been delayed because of the erratic weather we’ve had.
The good news is, in most cases there is no need to visit your GP as your pharmacist has a range of effective treatments to recommend. Antihistamine tablets can ease eye or nasal symptoms; eye drops can also help. Over-the-counter steroid sprays like beclomethasone and fluticasone can treat all symptoms (but are best started a month before hay fever season begins). If you are worried about the cost, ask about ‘own brand’ labels, which may be cheaper than branded products but are still effective.
Some people must take extra care with hay fever if they have a condition affecting their breathing, like asthma for example, or Chronic Obstructive Airways Disease (COPD). Make sure you always have your reliever inhaler (usually blue) handy for emergencies, and if you also have a preventer inhaler, please use that as prescribed. If you experience breathlessness which your inhalers can’t relieve easily, contact your GP.
Here are some dos and don’ts to help you through hay fever season:
- Put Vaseline around your nostrils to trap pollen.
- Wear wraparound sunglasses to keep pollen from your eyes.
- Shower and change clothes after going outside to wash pollen off.
- Stay inside when the pollen count gets bad, especially at dawn and dusk.
- Keep windows and doors shut where possible.
- Vacuum regularly and dust with a damp cloth.
- Keep car windows shut and get a pollen filter for the air vents.
- Cut grass or walk on grass.
- Smoke or be near it – it worsens symptoms.
- Spend too long outside.
- Let pets carry pollen indoors
- Dry clothes outside
- Keep fresh flowers in the house.