Getting to grips with hay fever - some top tips
24th July 2019 / Health
Getting to grips with hay fever - some top tips
Hay fever is the most common form of non-infectious allergy, affecting 25% of all adults and as many as 40% of children. It is understood that the prevalence of hay fever is on the rise due to an increase in hypersensitivity of the immune system. What really is hay fever and is there anything that we can do to ease the symptoms?
What is hay fever?
Allergic rhinitis, the scientific name for hay fever is an allergic reaction which affects the mucous membranes of the nose and eyes. Most sufferers of hay fever experience systems including nasal congestion and discharge, itchy eyes, itchy nose and often inner ear. These symptoms are caused by hypersensitivity to airborne pollen. Airborne pollen can originate from a number of sources including trees, grasses and weeds. Symptoms of hay fever can last weeks or even months, unlike a common cold.
IgE mediated response
Hay fever is known as an IgE-mediated response as symptoms of hay fever occur when the immune system reacts abnormally when exposed to an allergy stimulant. Immediate reactions are caused by an allergen specific immunoglobulin E (hence IgE) antibody that is present within the blood. This response also occurs when somebody has an allergy to a particular food, sometimes resulting in anaphylaxis. Desensitisation methods, may help to regulate this heightened response in some cases.
Hay fever can be categorised by two different forms:
Seasonal Hay Fever: This is the most common form of hay fever in the UK. The majority of people that suffer with seasonal hay fever experience symptoms in spring and summer. This type of hay fever is caused by allergic sensitivity to airborne pollen that are at their highest in the spring and summer months.
Perennial Hay Fever: People with perennial hay fever can suffer with symptoms all-year round, the most common causes are dust mites, pet hair and mould rather than pollen.
Currently there is no cure for hay fever, and it can’t be prevented. However the NHS recommend a number of ways to help ease the symptoms of hay fever which include:
- Showering and changing clothes after being outside
- Regularly washing hair to wash away trapped pollen
- Keeping windows closed during the day to prevent pollen entering
- Vacuuming regularly and dusting with a damp cloth
- Avoid drying clothes outside when pollen levels are high
- Avoid grassy areas, such as parks and fields when pollen levels are high
- Checking the pollen count every day to be prepared and take any necessary precautions
Checking the pollen forecast
Checking the pollen forecast during the hay fever season can give sufferers an early warning to help remain prepared. The pollen forecast can give an early warning of the pollen levels and can determine when airborne pollen will be at its highest levels.
A common way to fight the symptoms of hay fever is to take antihistamines. Antihistamines work by stopping or reducing the amount of a substance called histamine affecting the cells in the body. Histamine is a chemical which is released in response to something that the body deems to be harmful, for example an infection. In most cases, the production of histamine generates an inflammatory response which helps to protect the body.
However in allergies, including hay fever, the body mistakes harmless substances like pollen as a threat causing the body to release histamine. It is the production of histamine that produces the characteristic symptoms of hay fever (rashes, runny nose and/or sneezing). Antihistamines help to suppress the production of histamine, which helps to reduce the classic symptoms. Its best to check with a doctor if antihistamines are required in individual cases as antihistamines may not be always be necessary.
Some evidence suggests that consuming local honey which contains small doses of pollen can help to desensitise the body’s reaction to pollen which will ease symptoms. The best way to gain the benefits of honey as a means to ease the symptoms of hay fever would be to purchase local honey rather than commercially produced honey. In order to put the theory to the test the honey must be taken from bees using pollen from the specific surrounding area.
Vitamin D and allergy
Recent studies have revealed that vitamin D plays an important role in a well-functioning immune system; which directly correlates to immune-mediated responses including allergies like hay fever - stopping the IgE response discussed earlier. It has been suggested that vitamin D may act as an immune-modulator in allergy, further investigation is required but for the time being we are going to keep our vitamin D topped up! The easiest way to maintain vitamin D levels all year round is to use a supplement like our Vitamin D3.
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