Hay fever - or seasonal allergic rhinitis as it is medically known - is caused by an allergy to pollen and is a common condition in the UK, affecting over 10 million people. The symptoms of hay fever are usually first experienced in childhood, but can develop at any age.
When a person with hay fever comes into contact with pollen, the body releases antibodies to fight off the particular allergen. These antibodies stimulate the body to produce the chemical histamine, which causes the symptoms of an allergic reaction with uncomfortable symptoms including wheezing and watery eyes. It can also make other conditions worse, asthma for example.
What causes hay fever?
In general, hay fever is caused by pollen particles that irritate your nasal passages and trigger an allergic reaction. There are many types of pollen that could trigger this reaction. In Britain, grass pollen is the most common cause of hay fever but symptoms can also be triggered by tree and weed pollen.
90% of hay fever sufferers in the UK are allergic to grass pollens, which is prominent around mid May to July time.
Approximately 25% of people in Britain with hay fever are allergic to tree pollen, such as oak, birch, ash and cedar trees. Tree pollen allergy is most prevalent between late March and mid-May.
These pollens are produced from weeds such as dock, mugwort and nettles. Weed pollen count is high from the end of June to September (i.e. the summer season).
How do you treat hay fever?
The most effective way to prevent an allergic reaction is to avoid contact with the allergen. However, this is not always possible, especially when you are experiencing hay fever. You can treat these symptoms with a range of different over the counter treatments as well as prescription medication.
Antihistamines inhibit the function of a chemical called histamine, which has been shown to cause many of the symptoms associated with allergies like hay fever. These are available as tablets and in cream form, as well as eye drops or nasal sprays.
Steroid sprays, such as Avamys(available here without a need for a prescription for over 18 years of age) are specifically designed to significantly reduce swelling in the nasal airways. These sprays are often prescribed when over the counter treatments have been proven ineffective. They are also useful if you want to minimise side effects. Nasal sprays are also very easy to use.
Decongestants are used to relieve a blocked nose, which is commonly caused by hay fever or dust allergies. Decongestants are often used as a short-term treatment and can be taken as capsules, nasal sprays or liquids.