Hayfever – EDP column by Dr Ketan Dhatariya

“My eyes keep watering and my nose running. My GP says I have hayfever and has given me some tablets. What is hayfever?"

Seasonal rhinitis (‘inflammation of the nose depending on the time of year’) is the technical term for this. It is very common and affects up to 20% of people. The most common cause is an allergy to pollen. The main sources of hayfever causing pollen are grass and flowers which flower in the spring and summer. However, the depending on which pollen you are allergic to, the season may start as early as March and go on to October.

The pollen particles are sucked into the nose and they irritate the lining of the nose. The pollen is recognised by the body as a ‘foreign substance’ and the immune system comes into play to get rid of it before it does any harm. However, in those people who have hayfever the immune reaction over-reacts. This leads to the production of various chemicals being released that bring on the symptoms.

The main chemical that is released is histamine. This is responsible for most of the symptoms that people experience such as the itching eyes, runny nose and sneezing. For some people this can be a minor inconvenience, but for others it can be debilitating, and they can become almost housebound during times of high pollen counts. 

The development of drugs that block the action of the histamine, the lives of many sufferers has changed. They help people live normal lives. Do not just take them to help the symptoms when you have them but take them regularly during the summer months to help prevent the symptoms coming on. You can also get eye drops that do the same sort of thing to help the itchy eyes.

Often hayfever runs in families. It is one of a group of what are known as atopic conditions. The others include eczema and asthma. If you or one of your family has one of these associated condition, then the likelihood is that you have hayfever. 

In many people it is worse as when they are a child, but then people grow out of it.

Symptoms can be avoided or reduced if you try and follow some simple steps. Try and keep indoors during times of high pollen – often the early evening wearing sunglasses may help. Avoid mowing the lawn, at night, keeping the windows shut also may help. Regular vacuuming of the carpets may also help.

As always, pay a visit to your GP or pharmacist for more information.

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