How To Tell If You Have Hay Fever and What You Can Do About It

For some of us there’s nothing more pleasurable than spending time outdoors on a beautiful, sunny day.

Soaking up the warmth of the sun on our skin, taking note of the vibrant landscape around us, breathing in the scent of fragrant flowers in bloom…

But if you suffer from hay fever the exact same scenario can often prove an almighty misery.

For sufferers of this common allergic condition, sunny days can bring a raft of unpleasant symptoms such as stinging eyes, runny nose and itchy skin.

In this article we’re going to take a look at exactly what hay fever is – what causes it, typical symptoms associated with it, and some useful self-help tips you can take both indoors and out.

Read on for the full article, or click straight to the information you’re most interested in using one of the links in the table below.

What is Hay Fever?

Essentially, hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen.  The medical term for it is Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis.

When pollen particles come into contact with the cells that line your eyes, nose, mouth and throat they irritate them and cause an allergic reaction.

An allergic reaction occurs when your body overreacts to something it perceives as a threat – even if the substance itself is harmless.

Your immune system kicks in and responds as it it was under attack from a harmful virus.  It triggers the release of a number of chemicals into your bloodstream that are designed to halt the spread of infection.

And it’s these chemicals, such as histamine and leukotrienes, which inflame the lining of your nasal passages, sinuses and eyelids, and which cause the symptoms of an allergic reaction.

What is Pollen?

Pollen is a fine, microscopic powder which is released by plants and trees as part of their cycle of reproduction.

There are estimated to be around 30 different types of pollen, and it’s possible to be allergic to more than one kind.

So, as different species of trees and plants produce their pollen at different times of the year, you may experience hay fever symptoms at several periods throughout the year, depending on which type(s) you’re allergic to.

Typically, if you suffer from hay fever in the spring you’re most probably allergic to tree pollens, such as ash, birch, cedar and oak.

People who have a birch pollen allergy may also find they have an allergic reaction after exposure to apples, cherries, peaches and plums as they contain a similar protein.

If your symptoms tend to appear in the summer then pollens from grasses are the most likely source. 

In the fall it’s weeds (such as dock, mugwort and nettles) which are the probable cause of your hay fever allergy.

When Are Pollen Levels At Their Highest?

During their individual pollen season, plants begin to release pollen early in the morning.  As the day warms up more flowers will begin to open, thereby releasing more pollen.  On sunny days pollen levels are at their highest in the early evening.

Windy conditions cause pollen to be spread more easily.  However, rain can help to clear it from the air.

When the weather is humid, such as before a thunderstorm, pollen levels also tend to be higher as the particles remain suspended in the atmosphere longer then.

Nowadays, you can often find pollen forecasts for your particular area online.  Our local TV weather bulletin also looks at the anticipated pollen count for the following day.

The pollen count is a measurement of the amount pollen in the air.  ‘High’ is considered to be 50+ grains per cubic meter of air.

Generally speaking, the higher the pollen count, the more severe your symptoms are likely to be.

What Are the Symptoms of Hay Fever?

Symptoms (and their intensity) vary from person to person, but typically include:

  • blocked or congested nose
  • runny nose
  • sneezing
  • itchy, stinging or red eyes
  • swelling around the eyes
  • itchy mouth
  • itchy skin, eczema or hives

What Other Effects Are Associated with Hay Fever?

In addition to the physical symptoms listed above, there are also a number of other health effects associated with a hay fever allergy.

Fatigue, decreased concentration levels and reduced decision-making skills are some of the issues which have been linked to this condition.

For example, one survey found that 50% of sufferers reported that their sleep patterns had been negatively affected as a result of their hay fever.

Another looked at the impact of hay fever on mood and outlook, with over half of sufferers reporting that they felt frustrated, irritable, sluggish and slow.

In addition to this emotional impact, some hay fever suffers have also remarked that they’ve been reluctant to join in with outdoor activities with friends and family in order to avoid exposure to pollen, missing out on quality time with them in the process.

If you’re the parent of a child with a hay fever allergy, you might also be interested to hear of a study which found that students with this condition were 40% more likely to drop a grade than those without.

They were also found to be 70% more likely to drop a grade if they were taking sedating antihistamines at the time of an exam.

How Long Does It Take to Recover from Hay Fever?

Figures from the Office for National Statistics in the UK estimate that on average, hay fever sufferers will experience as many as 8 episodes of serious hay fever per year (‘serious’ characterised by moderate to severe symptoms).  Each of these episodes is estimated to last approximately 12 days.

As in the case of symptoms though, please do bear in mind that everyone is different and some people may find their symptoms relieved quicker than others.

When Do You Develop Hay Fever and Who Is Most Likely To Get It?

Hay fever can appear at any age, although it’s more likely to begin when you’re a child or a teenager. 

Research has shown that you’re more likely to develop hay fever if you suffer from asthma or eczema, or if you have a parent or sibling who also suffers from allergies.

There’s also some evidence which suggests that exposure to pollution (such as tobacco smoke and diesel exhaust fumes) during early childhood can also increase your likelihood of developing allergies, including hay fever.

However, many people do find that their symptoms improve as they get older, and for an estimated 10-20% of sufferers their hay fever will disappear completely.

Is There A Test I Can Take to Confirm If I Have a Hay Fever Allergy?

If you suspect that you’re suffering from hay fever but are looking for a confirmed diagnosis your doctor or allergist may be able to perform a test to establish if that is indeed the case.

There are 2 tests generally available to diagnose a hay fever allergy.

The first is known as a prick test or scratch test (or a percutaneous test, to give it its full medical name).

Here, small amounts of a suspected allergen are placed on your skin, which is then pricked with a needle, allowing the substance to seep under your skin.

You will then be monitored for a period of time to see whether any symptoms appear.  Results are usually obtained in approximately 20 minutes.

Alternatively, your doctor or allergist may carry out a blood test.

A blood sample will be taken from the veins in your arms and tested for the presence of the Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibody.  A positive result may indicate an allergy.

What Medication is Available to Treat Hay Fever?

At the present time there’s no cure as such for hay fever, although medication can help the majority of people to manage and relieve their symptoms to a certain extent.

Always consult with your own doctor before embarking on any course of treatment. 

They are aware of your full medical history and lifestyle, and are best placed to advise you on what may or may not be safe and suitable for you, and can also advise you of any possible side-effects.

Antihistamines are one type of treatment sometimes used for a hay fever allergy.

These are a preventative measure, in that they stop an allergic reaction from occuring.  Some people take these before leaving their home on a day when the pollen count is predicted to be high.

Antihistamines may come in the form of eye drops, oral tablets or nasal sprays.

Corticosteroids are another form of treatment sometimes prescribed by doctors for hay fever.  These help to reduce inflammation and swelling, and so help to lessen the symptoms of an allergic reaction.

For particularly persistent and severe hay fever your doctor may recommend a treatment known as immunotherapy.

Also sometimes referred to as allergy shots, this is where you are exposed to small amounts of an allergen over time, to help your body build up resistance to it and become less sensitive to it.

However, this is a slow process which can take many months or even years to work, and is carried out in specialised medical centers in case a serious allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) occurs.

12 Self-Help Tips to Reduce Hay Fever 

The best way to avoid a hay fever attack is to avoid exposure to pollen altogether.  But as pollen particles are airborne that’s of course far easier said than done.

Nevertheless, there are a few simple steps you can take to help minimise exposure and hopefully avoid an all-out allergic attack.

Outdoors

  • When venturing outdoors during the pollen season always wear glasses or wrap-around shades to help prevent pollen coming into contact with your eyes.
  • Likewise, a small layer of Vaseline (petroleum jelly) applied around your nostrils will help to prevent pollen particles entering your nasal passages.
  • If you can’t be persuaded not to garden or cut the grass on a sunny day then consider wearing a pollen mask (such as a NIOSH-rated 95 filter mask).
  • Avoid hanging clothes to dry outside as pollen particles can attach to them – tumble dry instead (as hanging up damp clothes indoors can cause mold, which can also trigger allergic reactions in some people).
  • Use pollen filters for the air vents in your car to trap particles before they can enter – replace when your car is serviced annually.

Indoors

  • Keep the windows of your home closed – if too hot draw your curtains to keep out the sun and use an air conditioning unit if you have one.
  • Dust regularly using a damp (rather than dry) cloth to collect any pollen particles that have settled on hard surfaces.
  • Vacuum regularly using a cleaner with a HEPA filter – these filters have smaller holes than regular ones and are able to trap microscopic particles such as pollen grains.
  • Keep any pets out of your home during the pollen season – if they do come indoors take care to bath/shower them regularly to remove pollen from their coats and fur.
  • Replace carpets with easy-to-clean flooring such as hardwood, linoleum or tiles to reduce a build up of pollen indoors.
  • Avoid keeping fresh flowers in your home.
  • Consider investing in an air purifier with a HEPA filter if you don’t already have one – they remove 99.97% of polluted particles including pollen, making your indoor air cleaner to breathe and free of allergens.

Conclusion

I hope you’ve found this article on hay fever informative and useful.

While it may be a relatively common condition, that doesn’t make it any less unpleasant, debilitating or uncomfortable for sufferers.

But the good news is that there’s a number of relatively simple things you can do to help minimise your symptoms.

And a number of different treatment options available which may be able to provide relief and allow you to get on with enjoying your life again 🙂

Disclaimer:  Please note that none of the information contained within this article is intended as a substitute for the advice of your own doctor or healthcare professional, nor should be acted on as if it were.  Please always consult your own doctor for advice and guidance if you have any questions, queries or concerns regarding your health and well-being.

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