Get the facts on this common ailment.
Ah, summer... This means sunshine, sand, sea and sweets (or ice cream if you prefer). Sadly, it can also mean hay fever. Even in the Irish summer, where the sun often doesn’t shine, hay fever can still rear its ugly head.
What is hay fever?
Hay fever is a type of allergy syndrome. People with hay fever are allergic to the pollen that plants and flowers release in order to reproduce. Some hay fever sufferers are also bothered by mould, but generally pollen is the main cause of symptoms.
Unfortunately, hay fever is pretty common. According to the Asthma Society of Ireland, 10% of the Irish population suffer with it. So, at least you know you are not alone!
What are the symptoms?
- Watery, itchy eyes
- Stuffy blocked nose
- Runny nose
- Sneezing a lot
- Blocked and/or itchy inner ears
- Itchy nose, ears, throat, eyes and skin
- Post nasal drip – the sensation that you have a lot of mucus stuck in your throat or that it is dripping from the back of your nose into your throat
- Fatigue – hay fever can leave you plain wrecked
What causes it?
- Hay fever is normally triggered by pollen. Pollen is a material released by plants. It is carried in the air from one plant to another as a way for plants to reproduce. In Ireland, most hay fever is caused by grass pollen.
- You breathe in this pollen. It enters your throat, ears and lungs.
- Your body produces antibodies in response to the pollen, to try to fight it off.
- These antibodies trigger your body to produce histamine and other chemicals to protect you from the 'enemy’.
- Histamine causes the symptoms listed above.
- There seems to be a genetic element to hay fever. So if you parents or siblings have it, you are more likely to develop it too.
- People with other allergic disorders, such as eczema or asthma, are more likely to develop hay fever.
- Pollution may make hay fever worse, according to certain research. So you may feel better in the country than in the city, even though pollen counts are actually usually higher in the countryside. Strange but true!
What can you do to help yourself?
- Learn about the pollen count and pollen season. In Ireland, the high pollen season usually begins in June, however it also varies depending on where you live, with the pollen season starting earlier in certain parts of the country.
- Form a treatment plan in collaboration with your GP or other health professional, well before the hay fever season starts.
- Try some home remedies – like gargling with salt water for an itchy or sore throat.
- Check out some remedies at your local chemist. Over the counter hay fever treatments include: antihistamines, steroid nasal sprays, decongestant tablets and eye drops. Do be aware however, that many of these medications can make you drowsy and may not be suitable for use with alcohol. The steroid sprays don’t tend to cause drowsiness however.
- Ask your doctor about immunotherapy. This involves a series of injections of minute amounts of the allergic substance over a period of months. These injections must be performed by a doctor and are prescription only. Some people find this to be very helpful, while others find it doesn’t do much of anything for their symptoms.
- Avoid high pollen times by staying indoors and keeping the windows shut. Not much fun we know, but you can still get out at non peak count times.
- Avoid places where you will be exposed to smoke, dust, chemicals or dirt.
- Investigate if you are allergic to certain foods that may aggravate your hay fever.