As part of our ongoing series of health columns, Dr Debbie Austin, High Peak GP and member of North Derbyshire Clinical Commissioning Group’s Governing Body, talks about hayfever.
High Peak gardens, parks and woodlands are now bursting into a stunning riot of colour following a ‘perfect’ winter for spring flowers. Not such welcoming news though if you are among the one in five people who suffer from hay fever, because spring is the time when hay fever begins.
Caused by an allergy to grass or hay pollens, hay fever results from your body over-reacting to a normally harmless substance. Cells in the lining of your nose, mouth and eyes release chemical called histamine that triggers cold-like symptoms – runny ose, watery eyes and repeated sneezing. Exactly when you get it depends on which pollens you are allergic to.
From March to May, tree pollen is the most common cause of hay fever. From May to July, it’s grass and flowers and late autumn – although mercifully rarer, it’s weeds such as nettles and docks, late flowering plants and mould spores.
You should visit your local pharmacist for advice in the first instance as most treatments are available over the counter. Ensuring you have the medication you need when you are enjoying the outdoors will reduce the effects of higher temperatures, more apparent air pollution and higher pollen counts.
Make sure you try and stay indoors if possible when the pollen counts are high. It’s highest in the early evening and when it’s humid or windy. If you live in a tall building, keep windows closed at mid-day as pollen rises. You can protect your eyes with wraparound sunglasses.
If you are a hay fever sufferer, it’s not a good idea to put washing outside to dry if the count is high as pollen can get trapped in the fibres. After being outdoors, change your clothes and shower to remove the pollen on your body.
Do without fresh flowers in the house and vacuum (ideally using a machine with a HEPA filter) and damp dust regularly. Plan your garden carefully with low risk plants and ask someone else to cut the grass if you can!
When driving, it’s important to keep car windows closed and you should consider buying a pollen filter for the air vents.
If you’re planning a holiday, think pollen counts. They may be lower on the coast because sea breezes blow it inland.
Hay fever usually begins in the early teens and peaks in your twenties. People become less sensitive to pollen as they get older, so by the time you’re in your mid-forties, hay fever may just be a bad memory and you can really enjoy the spring season once and for all.