What is hay fever?
Hay fever (allergic rhinitis) is caused by an allergic reaction to outdoor allergens such as pollen from grass, trees and weeds during the early spring and summer months. Pollen is a yellowish powder that is carried from plant to plant by the wind, birds, insects or other animals. It’s spread to fertilise plants but unfortunately can cause havoc for allergy sufferers leading to nasal problems, and watery and itchy eyes amongst other symptoms.
Hay fever occurs when the body detects pollen as a harmful agent and the immune system reacts by secreting a series of substances such as histamine, which causes the allergy symptoms in response. The allergy is present during seasonal peaks since the presence of pollen in the air is much higher in spring.
What are the symptoms of hay fever?
An allergic reaction to pollen can present one or several symptoms. The most common include:
- itchy, watery, swelling, red eyes
- nasal problems, such as congestion and runny nose
- tiredness and intense fatigue
- headaches and migraines
- bronchial asthma
- shortness of breath
What are the causes of hay fever?
The immune system mistakenly identifies pollen as a harmful substance and produces antibodies to defend the body. The antibodies signal the blood vessels to widen and for the body to produce chemicals such as histamine, which has a knock-on effect and causes hay fever symptoms. There are several factors that can increase the risk of developing hay fever, which includes asthma, eczema, a family history of the condition, and being exposed to tobacco smoke, especially from a young age.
What are the different types of pollen?
On average there are 30 different types of pollen, which can cause hay fever. The sources include grass (the most common) trees and weeds. Different trees and plants produce pollen at different times of the year. Pollen count season can even begin as early as January and can end in November, depending on weather conditions.
Can hay fever be prevented?
It is difficult to avoid pollen altogether but reducing exposure to the triggers of hay fever can help to ease symptoms. It is recommended to stay indoors when the pollen count is high and to keep the windows and doors closed. Fresh flowers should not be kept at home and pets should be kept out of the house during the season. Regularly cleaning, vacuuming and dusting can also help to ease symptoms. The eyes can be protected by wearing sunglasses.
How is hay fever treated?
Treatment for pollen allergy should be prescribed by an allergist specialist, and will usually consist of antihistamine and decongestant medications to reduce symptoms. In some severe cases, treatment with injections (immunotherapy) may be necessary.