Hayfever is caused by an allergy to pollens or moulds. Grass pollen is the usual culprit between May and July, but the same symptoms can be caused by tree pollens between March and May, and by moulds from July to September. The symptoms are caused by the interaction between the pollen and an antibody called IgE, which leads to the release of a chemical called histamine in our bodies. Histamine release leads to the well known symptoms of sneezing, running nose, blocked nose, itchy, watery eyes, and sore throat that characterise hay fever. Less commonly, histamine release can also lead to wheezing. Who makes IgE?
The manufacture of IgE is not a normal response to exposure to pollens and other allergens such as animal hair and dust. The tendency to make IgE is inherited in many sufferers, so hay fever and other allergies tend to run in families. People who make IgE are referred to as 'atopic', and also have an increased tendency to develop asthma and eczema. Over recent years, the number of people with allergy-related illnesses has increased markedly. There are many theories as to why this might be, including environmental pollution, houses that are too clean and therefore don't allow the immune system to be busy enough making 'normal' IgG antibodies that fight infection, exposure of the foetus to allergy-provoking foods during pregnancy, and early weaning. None of these theories have been proven.
How can hay fever symptoms be improved?
Avoidance of pollen can help to reduce the severity of the symptoms, but of course is not often practical. Daily pollen counts are often given with weather forecasts on the radio, TV and in newspapers. If the pollen count is expected to be very high, it may help to do the following things if possible: Stay indoors as much as possible and keep the door and windows closed. Shower and wash your hair after being outdoors Avoid cut grass and large grassy areas Wear good, wrap-around sunglasses when going out If you are in a car, keep the windows and sunroof shut. If you spend a lot of time in your car, you could consider buying a pollen filter for the air vents It is worth remembering that as the air warms up, pollen is carried upwards on the warm air currents, and so symptoms may not be so bad in the heat of the day. As the air cools in the evening, the pollen falls back to earth and symptoms may flare up again. What treatments are available?
Antihistamines are the mainstay of treatment. They act by blocking the effects of the histamine release. Modern antihistamines are non-sedating, and only need to be taken once a day. A wide range is available over the counter at pharmacies and on prescription. Those symptoms that are not completely relieved by antihistamines can be treated with a range of other products. All the nasal symptoms are responsive to regular dosing with a steroid nasal spray. This works by reducing inflammation in the nose, but needs to be used every day, and isn't immediately effective. It takes several days for a steroid spray to build up its effect. There is one brand that can be bought over the counter at pharmacies (Beconase), and several others that can only be obtained on prescription. Eye drops can be useful also. The most flexible are antihistamine drops, as they work quickly and can be used as required to relieve eye irritation. Several brands are available over the counter. An alternative, though less convenient, option is to use a regular, four times daily eye drop, of the Opticrom type, as a preventative. Severe symptoms at a disastrous time, such as at exam time, can be treated with a short course of steroid tablets. Don't miss... Boost your immunity with our immune boosting diet Lose those love handles! 10 tips for great abs Make your diet work for you on the flexitarian diet