Hay Fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, is an allergic reaction to environmental allergens such as pollens, dust mites, moulds and animal hair.
It mainly affects the nose and the eyes, but it can also irritate the skin. Most people associate hay fever with the spring time due to the increase in grass pollens, however hay fever can occur all year round- which is called perennial allergic rhinitis which is usually called by reactions to allergens in the home, such as dust mites, moulds, animal hair or other household allergens. See my post on Winter Allergies for more details.
Understanding Hay Fever
Your nose acts a filter to the environmental particles that you inhale. The hairs and mucus that lie the nose trap pollens, dust mites and other small particles. Individuals with hay fever are allergic to some of these particles that get trapped which cause an allergic reaction response and the nose and sinuses become inflamed, causing a blacked and runny nose. Sneezing occurs in an attempt to clear the mucus from the upper part of the airway.
The nose and sinuses are linked to the lungs by a common airway. When we breathe, air passes through our nose and continues down the airway to the lungs. If an allergen stops the free flow of air to our lungs it can cause further allergic inflammation that triggers a wheeze and a cough.
- Watery eyes
- Runny/Stuffy nose
- Itchy eyes/nose/throat/ear
- Dark circles under the eyes
- Breathing difficulty
- Dry Cough, sometimes producing phlegm
- Skin rash
- Feeling sick
- Low-grade fever
Some allergies may also lead to more disruptive asthmatic symptoms:
- Chest tightness
- Wheezing or whistling when you breathe
- Breathing rapidly
- Feeling exhausted
- Feeling anxious
|Allergen||Where it’s found||Why it’s an allergen||Increases Allergen|
|Pollen (Tree pollen, Grass Pollen, Ragweed Pollen)||Outdoor environment||Pollen is airborne||Spring, Summer time|
|Airborne dust particles/ Human & Pet Dander (dead skin flakes)||Indoor surfaces: Bedding, Carpets, upholstery||Dander can get into household dust and stick to indoors surfaces, increasing your chances of exposure.||Pets indoor during the winter, especially in bedrooms or living rooms|
|Dust mites||Bedding, Carpets, upholstery||Microscopic bugs live in warm, damp environments, and their excrement can get into household dust.||Indoor heating with windows closed all the time, not hoovering, dusting regularly especially bedroom|
|Mould||Damp, dark, moist areas: Bathrooms, Basements, corners of a room||When Mould spores are inhaled by those with allergies it can trigger sneezing, congestion and itchiness. Damp weather can promote mould growth.||Humidifiers, leaky pipes or faucets|
|Cockroach Droppings||Dark, moist areas: Kitchen Cupboards, under sinks, or behind appliances||Proteins found in saliva and excrement of cockroaches can easily spread like dust through homes. Can affect both adults and children, though children are known to be more susceptible. Damp weather can drive roaches indoors.||Leaving out food or crumbs|
If symptoms last more than a week, it is advised to see your doctor who may refer you to an allergist. The allergist may do a skin test in which they scratch your skin with a small piece of an allergen or injects it just under your skin. If the area turns red with a lump, you may be allergic, however further blood tests will accurately diagnose you.
Allergies can be treated instantly at home and by long-term clinical treatments.
Speak with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any Over The Counter medication to find the best for you*
Over the Counter allergy medication:
Antihistamines- pills, nasal sprays, eye drops
- target histamine, which your body makes during an allergic reaction.
- Build up in blood to protect against allergens and block the release of histamines, advisable to take before you have symptoms
- There are many available, so it is best to speak to your pharmacist/GP first to find the best for you.
Decongestants- pills, liquids, nasal sprays
- Cut down the fluid in the lining of the nose which relieves swollen nasal passages and congestion
Some medication may combine antihistamines and decongestants and their name usually ends with -D can relieve headaches.
- Immunotherapy (allergy shots or under-the-tongue tablets) expose your body to very small amounts of your allergens regularly to build up your body’s immunity to them. This leads to much less severe symptoms over the course of several years.
- Neti pot works by pouring clean, distilled water through your nasal passages to clear out mucus and allergens.
- Rhinolight treatment (UV phototherapy for nose and sinus allergy) is a high-intensity, ultraviolet light which is inserted into the nasal passage to reduce, and potentially eliminate, the allergic response to allergens.
*Speak with your doctor or pharmacist about your allergies to find the best solution for you*
Simple Ways to Help Prevent Symptoms
- Take a shower
- Stay hydrated – Drink water or hot teas. When the body is dehydrated it can produce more histamine which can increase hay fever symptoms.
- Nasal Irrigation- Clear your nasal passages with a saltwater solution or a product bought from a pharmacy can help keep your nose free of allergens.
- A spoonful of local honey daily MAY help ease symptoms for some if started before the pollen season
- Put a small bit of Vaseline inside each nostril to ease the soreness and to capture pollen entering the nasal passages.
Prevention- How to reduce exposure to allergens
Hay Fever Relief App: Download and use the app throughout the pollen season to monitor your symptoms and get tips to stay healthy. Check the pollen count daily and plan your day accordingly.
- Monitor pollen forecasts daily in your area and stay indoors when possible when the pollen count is high.
- Stay close to beaches and the sea if possible when going outside
- Wear sunglasses to reduce pollen grains affecting the eyes
- Wash clothes after you’ve been outdoors as pollen and shower and wash your hair after your arrive home to get rid of any particles.
- Avoid big areas of grassland
- Keep distance for peoples mowing their lawn or wear a face mask if you are mowing the lawn
- Pet’s can carry pollen on their fur so make sure to wipe their coat with a damp microfibre cloth when they come back inside
- Keep house and car windows closed during peak pollen hours of late morning and late afternoon
- Never sleep with the bedroom window open
- Use special protective casing over your pillows and mattress to reduce dust mites.
- Wash bedding, pillow cases, clothing regularly in hot water to reduce dander and dust mites
- Remove fluffy cushions, teddies and upholstery from bed
- Replace carpet floor with wood, tile or linoleum and avoid wall-to-wall carpeting
- Seal cracks or openings in doors, windows or walls where cockroaches can enter, or outdoor air can blow in
- Fix any leaks in bathroom, roof, pipes to stop moisture build up for dust mites
- Clean areas e.g sinks and showers with mould growth with water and 5% bleach solution
- Regularly hoover, dust and clean your house preferably with a HEPA filter vacuum
- Use a dehumidifier to reduce moisture indoors-ideal humidity level is 30-50%.
- Remove old shower curtain, wallpaper, carpeting with mould
- Bathe pets once a week to minimize dander
- Clean up pet food after feeding
- Keep out of bedroom of allergic individual
- Keep clothes, jumpers, scarves etc clean, hung up away from floor dust
- Wear silk pjamasas
- Use a salt inhaler
- Bring your own pillow/pillow case to sleepover
Public areas, such as workplaces or shops, can have the same allergy-inducing conditions as your home such as, dry air, dust, and dust mites. Even when shopping and trying on clothes make sure to get fresh air between every few shops as I often get symptoms if trying on different fabrics.
If you are asthmatic, allergies can aggravate your chest and make your asthma worse, which may cause you to increase your inhalers. If this happens, it is important to speak with your GP or asthma nurse as they may advise an allergy tablet or a stronger inhaler rather than taking your current inhaler multiple times throughout the day.