Hay fever is a type of allergy also known as 'seasonal allergic rhinitis'. It affects approximately 10% of the population in Britain. It can affect people of all ages but first attacks usually occur before the age of 30. It can run in families and commonly affects those who also suffer from asthma or eczema. The hay fever season runs from late February to October, peaking during the summer.

Hay fever occurs when the body produces an allergic reaction to a foreign substance known as an 'allergen'. The body's defence system releases a chemical called histamine which can cause inflammation of the lining of the nose, eyes, throat and airway which can lead to a number of unpleasant symptoms. These symptoms include watery and itchy eyes which may also become red, swollen and sore, a runny, blocked and itchy nose, sneezing fits and itching of the throat and ears. Hay fever can also cause headaches, lack of concentration and a feeling of being generally run down. In severe cases, hay fever can cause wheezing.

Causes

Allergens known to cause hay fever include tree and grass pollens, rapeseed and fungal spores. Trees pollinate between February and May, grasses pollinate between May and September and fungal spores are released between May and October.

Avoiding Hay Fever

Although it is impossible to stay indoors during the hay fever season it is better to avoid going outside early in the morning and late in the afternoon which is when the pollen count is particularly high. Try to avoid trips to the countryside when the pollen count is high and avoid freshly mown grass. Do not keep cut flowers in your home.Keep windows and doors shut when you are indoors. Also keep car windows and vents closed when travelling.Wear sunglasses when you are outdoors if the pollen count is high.Choose holidays near the coast or in the mountains because pollen counts in these areas tend to be lower.A hay fever attack can occur at any time so try to carry a hay fever remedy with you at all times. This is particularly important when you are on holiday.Change your bed linen regularly. Pollen can settle on pillows and sheets during the day. Vacuum your carpets regularly.

Treatment

Antihistamines counteract the effects of histamine. They are available in tablet, capsule and liquid form. Some antihistamines can cause drowsiness. Decongestants reduce the swelling of the lining of the nose and help to reduce the production of mucus. They can be taken orally as tablets or liquid or they can be applied directly into the nose in the form of drops or sprays. Corticosteroids suppress inflammation and reduce swelling. They are available as tablets, nose drops, nasal sprays, eye drops and can also be administered as an injection. Sodium cromoglicate is an anti-inflammatory medicine which can be used regularly to prevent hay fever. It works by suppressing the release of histamine and is available as nasal spray, eye drops and eye ointment. Desensitisation involves a series of pollen vaccinations. It is only used in severe cases. The injections gradually increase the body's resistance to hay fever. A course of desensitisation treatment may take several years to complete. It is not suitable for young children, pregnant women, those who suffer from asthma or many different allergies.

Additional Information

Throughout the hay fever season, information about daily pollen counts can be found in newspaper, television and radio weather forecasts.Alternatively, there is a website which provides information about daily pollen counts. The site can be found at www.pollenforecast.worc.ac.uk

Additional information about hay fever and other allergies can be obtained from The British Allergy Foundation, Deepdene House, 30 Bellegrove Road, Welling, Kent DA16 3BY. Tel: 0181 303 8583. Fax: 0181 303 8792.