Streaming eyes? Itchy nose, throat and mouth? Can’t stop sneezing? Welcome to hay fever season, which will make life miserable for the 10-25% of the UK population suffering from this seasonal allergy to pollens.
So what can sufferers do to alleviate symptoms? Allergy specialist Dr Susan Aldridge, an expert at AllergyCosmos.co.uk, gives her top ten tips for avoiding and reducing the symptoms of hay fever:
1. Reduce your exposure to pollen
Hay fever sufferers can limit the effects of plant pollen in the home by showering and changing clothes as soon as they get inside. Those with long hair or facial hair should shampoo it every day to get rid of trapped pollen, or keep hair tied back.
2. Clean regularly
Cleaning regularly and effectively can also reduce exposure to pollen. There are cleaning products available that will safely remove lingering pollen. Also, use a leakage free hoover with an HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter to clean carpets and upholstery.
3. Wear sunglasses
Sunglasses act as a physical barrier, preventing pollen from getting into, and directly irritating, your eyes. If you find your eyes stream – a very common symptom of hay fever – sunglasses will help provide some comfort in bright sunlight too.
4. Close windows
Warm air lifts pollen high into the atmosphere during the day. When air cools as dusk falls, pollen starts to descend. You may well be exposed to one of these ‘pollen showers’ in the early hours of the morning if you sleep with a window open.
5. Try barrier balms
Natural balms applied to the base of the nose and around the eyes throughout the day can trap some pollen before it enters the body. The stickier the balm, the more pollen it will trap.
6. Use an air purifier
Allergy sufferers who use air purifiers have reported significant improvements in their symptoms, and even say the air ‘tastes’ or smells cleaner. Look for a model that has a high filtration efficiency to filter pollen grains out of indoor air, and one that moves enough air to clean the room several times per hour.
7. Practise nasal irrigation
Some sufferers find washing out the nasal passage can be effective in alleviating allergy symptoms. Saline sinus rinses are widely available in chemists, but you could make your own with 240ml of warm bottled water and a quarter of a teaspoon of non-iodised salt.
If your symptoms are mild, use a long-acting, non-sedating antihistamine such as Claritin (loratadine), NeoClaritin (desloratadine), Zyrtec (cetirizine), Xyzal (levocetirizine) or Allegra (fexofenadine), which are all available over-the-counter. If hay fever mainly affects your eyes, antihistamine eye drops, such as Otrivine (antazoline) may help.
Immunotherapy, also known as desensitisation or allergy shots, offers a way of overcoming hay fever for some people. The system is flooded with pollen allergen in the hope that the body will eventually learn to ignore it.
10. Nutrition and natural remedies
There is evidence that symptoms can be exacerbated by dairy products, wheat, citrus fruit, red meat, dairy and sugary foods.The herbal remedy Butterbur and nettle extract tablets have had some success in clinical trials.