Spring is a favourite season of the year for many with better weather and lighter nights following a long and dark winter, however it may not be the case if you are one of the thousands of hay fever suffers in Greater Cumbernauld.
With the hay fever season already underway and typically running through the summer, and new research suggesting that the pollen time-frame is lengthening, Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub is shining a light on the pesky condition which is triggered by allergic reaction to pollen.
Pollen is the powdery substance which is shed by flowering trees and grasses to enable plant reproduction. At this time of year, billions of pollen grains are released into the environment, causing misery for those who are allergic.
Hay fever affects as many as one in five people across the UK, with high pollen counts causing watery eyes, runny noses and itchy throats. Research has indicated that there has been a concerning trend of hay fever seasons getting worse as the years go by. Professor Adam Fox of the Allergy London Clinic explained:
“If I look back at the past 20 years of my clinical practice in the UK, we have definitely seen an increase in the height and length of the pollen season.
“It used to be that there were good allergy years and bad allergy years, but now they all tend to be bad. As I understand it, this is down to climate change and warmer temperatures.”
Climate change is not the only factor to blame in the rise of hay fever in the UK; it is believed that air pollution is also contributing to the surge. A study published in 2020 found that people who live in areas of higher pollution are more likely to have more severe nasal symptoms.
In fact, many people don’t realise that there is a higher proportion of hay fever sufferers in cities than in the countryside. According to Professor Sir Malcolm Green, founder of British Lung Foundation, this is because pollutants found more in cities, including diesel particles, irritate the lining of the airways and make them more sensitive. Sir Malcolm commented:
“These tiny particles can penetrate right into the air sacs, deep within the lungs and set up an inflammatory response, so when an allergen such as pollen comes along, the airways are already primed.
“People who already have allergies are likely to have worse symptoms if they are in a polluted environment. There is also evidence that people who would not normally develop allergies are tipped over into becoming allergic because of mucosal irritation caused by pollutants.”
If you or someone in your family has an allergy to pollen, Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub’s below guide to all things hay fever is a must-read.
AN INTRODUCTORY GUIDE TO HAY FEVER: HOW TO BEAT THE POLLEN BOMB
What Is Hay Fever And What Are The Symptoms?
Hay fever, otherwise known as allergic rhinitis, is caused by an allergy to pollen. It is a type of inflammation in the nose which occurs when the immune system overreacts to allergens in the air.
Signs and symptoms include a runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, swelling around the eyes and red, itchy and watery eyes. The fluid from the nose is usually clear and not mucus-based as it often would be with a virus or bacterial infection. Symptom onset is often within minutes of allergen exposure and can affect sleep and the ability to work or study.
Some people affected may also experience loss of smell, pain around their forehead and temples, earache and fatigue. The symptoms begin when immune cells mistakenly identify the proteins on pollen as a threat and make antibodies in response. These allergen-specific antibodies bind to body cells which play a key role in the immune response, helping to trigger inflammation.
When Is Hay Fever Season?
Generally, hay fever season starts at the end of March and finishes at the end of September, with various pollen-related allergies bringing on symptoms during this period.
In a typical year, tree pollen season begins first, starting in February and lasting until June. The grass pollen season starts in May and finishes in July. Weeds such as stinging nettles release pollen from June to September. Whilst most people have an allergy to either tree, grass or weed pollen, some people are unfortunate and are allergic to all three of them.
Grass pollen has two peaks, with the first usually starting in the first two weeks of June and then the second, lower peak occurring in the first two weeks of July, after which things tail off slowly. These peaks may be masked by how wet, dry, warm or cold it is, and the timing of the peaks also depends on the weather conditions during spring and early summer.
Investigation by experts in recent years has concluded that, for a variety of reasons, the pollen season has lengthened by up to one month over the last 30 years.
How Can I Minimise The Effects Of Hay Fever?
Although there’s no cure or prevention for hay fever, a number of steps can be taken to ease symptoms when the pollen count is high. Pollen levels in the air tend to be highest in the morning because they have risen throughout the night, and again at around 5pm because many plants release their pollen later in the day.
Therefore, hay fever sufferers can control their symptoms by staying indoors at these peak times of the day, keeping windows and doors closed to reduce the amount of pollen that manages to get into the home.
If you have hay fever, watching the weather forecast can also be helpful. Rain can either raise pollen levels or reduce them, depending on the type of rain. Heavy droplets may break pollen grains into smaller particles, increasing the problem, but gentle rain absorbs pollen and brings it down to the ground where it can do no harm.
High pollen levels are more likely on a hot, sunny day with little wind. This is because pollen grains stay airborne for longer then. On such days, take extra precautions, such as wearing wrap-around sunglasses to stop pollen affecting the eyes.
Even on a shady day there can be a lot of pollen in the air, so wearing glasses whenever you go outside during the pollen season can be advantageous. Another useful tip is to keep car windows closed and use air conditioning on the ‘recycle air’ setting. Wearing Vaseline around your nostrils can also be a good way of trapping pollen.
To wash pollen away, people with hay fever can also benefit from showering and changing their clothes after being outside, vacuuming regularly using a vacuum that is fitted with a HEPA filter, dusting with a damp cloth frequently and buying a pollen-filter for air vents.
If you’re suffering with hay fever symptoms, speaking to a pharmacist is often an excellent idea. They can give advice and suggest the best treatments to help with your symptoms, such as antihistamine drops, tablets or nasal sprays. Where symptoms are more significant, it’s advisable to speak to your GP, who may prescribe steroid treatment or refer you for immunotherapy.
What Should Be Avoided If I Have Hay Fever?
Non-sufferers tend to dismiss hay fever as unimportant, but it can be really debilitating for a sizeable minority of people and affect their quality of life.
In this respect, prevention is often the key for hay fever sufferers to keep on top of their symptoms. Things to avoid include cutting grass, walking on grass, keeping fresh flowers in the house, smoking or being around smoke, drying clothes outside and letting pets into the house.
Foods containing wheat, like bread, pasta, cakes and pastries, can also be problematic for people with grass pollen allergies. Equally, dairy products such as milk and cheese stimulate the body to produce more mucus, making blocked noses or ears much worse. Matured cheeses also tend to contain high levels of histamine.
Is There A Link Between Pollen and Coronavirus?
Some research has indicated that, even in people who don’t have an allergy, pollen can suppress the way the body responds to viruses by reducing the immune response in the airways. As a result, there may be an increased risk of catching coronavirus (COVID-19) during times when the pollen count is high.
If you are unsure whether certain symptoms are being caused by hay fever or coronavirus, the charity Allergy UK has compiled a helpful guide to recognise the difference. This can be viewed by clicking here.
Further information about allergic rhinitis can be obtained by visiting NHS’s Hay Fever Web Page, whilst bespoke support can be accessed by contacting the Allergy UK helpline on 01322 619898 or emailing email@example.com.