Word on Health

Word on Hay fever

Our grateful thanks to the charity Allergy UK for thewir contribution and for the use of the web copy (to hear our on-air report scroll down this page). To find out more detailed information on hay fever and other allergies visit the Allergy UK website. The charity provides Helpline on 01322 619 898 (9am to 5pm Monday to Friday).

Hay Fever -  The NHS tell us that it affects in one in five people in their life.

Recent research with a representative sample of people who live with the condition by Allergy UK shows the impact hay fever can have -  15% of sufferers polled were so affected they don’t like leaving their own house -  nearly a quarter (23%) said the condition makes them miserable - 38% found it difficult to sleep - 29% felt unable to concentrate - whereas one in five (20%) said it makes it hard for them to do their job.

Hay Fever (seasonal allergic rhinitis) is caused when the body makes allergic antibody (IgE) to a substance such as pollen, house dust mites, cat, dog or moulds (called an allergen). In people sensitive to these allergens, exposure causes the release of chemicals from cells in the nasal passages, eyes or airways. This results in inflammation and irritation to the lining of the eyes, nose and throat.

Grass pollen is the most common allergen, which affects sufferers at the specific times of the year when grass pollen is released (May-July). However, some people become allergic to tree or weed and shrub pollens, and will therefore be affected at different times of the year (February-June for trees; September and October for weeds). The patient who is allergic to tree, grass and weed pollens may suffer a very prolonged 'hay fever season'.

Symptoms In an attempt to rid the body of allergens, the immune system overreacts and releases chemicals (mediators) which cause inflammation. Some of these mediators (e.g. histamine) work quickly, causing sneezing, itching and runny nose. The eyes may also be affected, with itching, redness and watering (allergic conjunctivitis). Other mediators work more slowly, causing a blocked or stuffy nose, which may lead to headache and difficulty sleeping.

Rhinitis is often regarded as a trivial problem but studies have shown that it severely affects people's quality of life. It disturbs sleep, impairs daytime concentration and the ability to carry out tasks, causes people to miss work or school, and has been shown to affect children’s school exam results.

People who suffer rhinitis are at increased risk of developing asthma. Inflammation at one end of the airway (the nose) often spreads to the other end (the lungs), and this has led to the 'one airway' approach to treatment. Asthmatics who also suffer rhinitis have less severe asthma and less A&E and hospital admissions if their rhinitis is treated effectively.

Symptoms that continue all year are called perennial allergic rhinitis and commonly relate to indoor allergens, such as house dust mites, pets and indoor moulds.

Pollen-food allergy Some people with pollen allergy (especially allergy to tree pollens) may be affected by cross-reactions between their pollen allergy and certain foods. For example, they may find that when eating certain fruits and vegetables, especially raw, they get an itchy mouth or throat, symptoms of oral allergy syndrome. Consumer research from Allergy UK shows 40% of hay fever sufferers also react to one or more of nuts, fruit, vegetables or spices.

Rhinitis can be managed by:

1. Avoidance of the allergic trigger (Pollens, moulds, house dust mite etc) Allergen avoidance is difficult for people with allergy to substances in the air, such as pollen. For example, tiny pollen spores are windborne and travel for miles on air currents. However, many people do benefit from allergen avoidance to house dust mite and pets, while some simple measures can be used to help people with hay fever.

2. Treatments that suppress the symptoms of rhinitis. There are a range of treatments available - talk to your pharmacist or GP. 

Allergy testing  is not usually required in simple hay fever because the trigger substances can be easily identified from the history of when and where symptoms occur. However, in certain cases a skin prick test or blood test might be of some value.

Listen to this weeks radio report

All material on this website is provided for your information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being.