A runny nose, watery eyes, sneezing, coughing – whatever your hay fever symptoms, it’s no surprise if you’ve had a flare-up recently.
During spring, both tree and grass pollen is released into the air.
If you’re allergic to the proteins they contain, your nose, eyes, throat and sinuses can become swollen, irritated and inflamed.
“Many people are suffering from hay fever just now because the pollen count is high, thanks in part to climate change,” says Dr Nisa Aslam, GP from Typharm’s Skin Life Sciences Foundation. “Plus the pollen season is getting longer.”
The immune function plays an important role in an allergic reactions, she explains. “People who suffer from hay fever often have a family history of not just hay fever, but also skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis, which can often be borne out of problems with the immune system.”
The weather can also be a contributing factor in how badly you’re affected.
“Some hay fever sufferers may be experiencing a sudden spike in their symptoms a bit earlier than usual, this may be due to the recent prolonged wet and windy weather,” says Claire Nevinson, superintendent pharmacist at Boots.
“On a daily basis, rainfall tends to decrease pollen, but over a period of months, intermittent wet days tend to produce a more severe hay fever season overall.”
Conditions could be about to get even worse. A recent study by the University of Worcester, published in the Science of The Total Environment journal, warned that it could be one of the worst seasons for birch pollen on record.
The severity is due to two things. “Firstly, higher than average temperatures last June, when the pollen is produced, allowed greater potential for high pollen levels,” says Dr Beverley Adams-Groom, senior pollen forecaster at the university.
“Secondly, birch trees have a biennial pattern of pollen production, one mild year and one severe year, and this year was already expected to be a high year.”
So what can you do if your hay fever is much worse than usual at the moment?
The first step is to avoid exposure to the pollen that affects you the most.
“Allergens responsible for hay fever include grass pollens and tree pollens [spring and summer], weed pollens and fungal mould spores,” says Dr Aslam.
“Watch the daily pollen forecasts. Don’t go outside when the pollen count is high and keep all windows shut.”
Preventive medicines can help to reduce symptoms if you know in advance when you’re going to be exposed to pollen.
“This can be a steroid nasal spray one to two weeks before symptoms start,” says Dr Aslam.
Alternatively, natural nasal sprays “can help to prevent the symptoms of hayfever and other types of allergic rhinitis by forming a protective film in our inner nose, stopping allergens that we breathe in from trying to enter our respiratory system”, she says.
Similarly, ointments like Vaseline can act as a pollen trap.
“Apply a barrier balm of petroleum jelly around your nose to trap the pollen and help relieve dry and uncomfortable skin from repetitive nose blowing,” Ms Nevinson says.
“Shower and change your clothes after you have been outside to wash pollen off and wear wraparound sunglasses to stop pollen getting into your eyes.”