Dr Lamah El-Sharkawi is a GP in Uplands and Mumbles Surgery and her sister Reem El-Sharkawi is a GP Pharmacist, both are part of the Bay Cluster Network. This month they look at hay fever.
Hay fever season is looming and with 1 in 5 people being affected in the UK many people will be preparing themselves for runny noses and watery eyes. Hay fever, sometimes known as seasonal allergic rhinitis, is a common condition that often affects people who suffer from asthma or eczema and often runs in families.
What actually is hay fever and what are the symptoms?
Hay fever is an allergic condition where a person’s immune system reacts to various substances including pollen from grass, flowers and trees. As a result, the body releases a chemical known as histamine specifically from the eyes, nose and airways causing the inflammatory reaction. This prompts the common symptoms like sneezing, runny or blocked nose, red and watery eyes, itchy throat and headaches.
How can you avoid the triggers?
- Generally the pollen count is higher early in the morning between 7am and 9am and evenings between 5pm and 7pm so keeping your house closed and car windows shut is advised.
- Trying to avoid areas where there are large grassy areas or woodland
- Wear wrap-around sunglasses
- Showering and washing your clothes thoroughly after being outside
- When the pollen count is high try and stay indoors.
- Petroleum jelly (Vaseline) around your nose to trap the pollen
- Avoid drying your clothes outside to avoid the pollen sticking to them
What can you take to treat hay fever?
Luckily there are many treatment options available from your local pharmacy including tablets and nasal sprays.
Antihistamine nasal sprays
The antihistamine nasal spray can ease the itching, sneezing and watering within about 15 minutes of being used. Generally, it is not as effective at easing congestion. The spray can be used regularly or on a when required basis dependent on frequency of symptoms.
The antihistamine tablets are taken by mouth and are good at relieving most hay fever symptoms including eye and/or nasal symptoms but not nasal congestion. People normally get symptomatic relief within an hour of taking a dose. There are many different types of antihistamines that can be bought from pharmacies including cetirizine and loratidine but beware older antihistamine, chlorphenamine, can make you drowsy so do not take if you are driving or operating machinery.
Steroid nasal sprays
The steroid nasal spray works well to clear all nasal symptoms specifically the sneezing, itching and congestion. It should be noted that it takes several days to feel the true benefit of the spray so there is no instant relief of symptoms when you start using it so try to persevere. It can be used in combination with antihistamines if symptoms are not controlled by one treatment. Nasal sprays include mometasone or beclometasone.
Some people also find eye drops beneficial including sodium cromogicate eye drops to prevent watery eyes and many use it throughout the hay fever season.
Remember always ask your pharmacist for any advice regarding your hay fever treatment and if it is worsening then always ask your GP for further treatments.