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Preparing for Seasonal Allergies

The term ‘hayfever’ (or seasonal allergic rhinitis), gives clues as to why this condition has the potential to make sufferers' lives so miserable. While hay is not the only cause, the redness and swelling of the tissues lining the eyes and sinuses that happens after being exposed to pollen can set off a chain reaction in the body, much like a fever does. While not life-threatening, the quality of life of a hayfever sufferer can really be affected.

Pollen is the most common cause of seasonal allergic rhinitis. People differ in the types of pollen they react to. Different plants flower at different times of the year. Some people may have hayfever symptoms in the spring, while others are affected more in summer or autumn.

Allergies happen when a person’s immune system reacts to an allergen like pollen. After exposure to the allergen, the body releases histamine, a chemical that causes swelling, itching, and fluid to build up in the tissues that line the eyelids, nose, and sinuses. These inflamed tissues feel sore and tender. Histamine enlarges small blood vessels, irritates nerve endings, and increases tear secretion. Symptoms such as sneezing, stuffy, runny nose, itchy eyes, ears, and throat, and nosebleeds are common. Eyes can look red or pink and feel painful, eyelids can feel swollen and sore. Severe hayfever symptoms can include sweats, headaches, loss of smell or taste, and facial pain from blocked sinuses. Tiredness, irritability, and insomnia can all be a result of dealing with unrelenting symptoms.

There are many treatments available to help people control hayfever. It can be trial and error to find one that works, but it is worth trying several as people differ in their response to certain medications. It can depend on what part of the body is most affected as to what treatment is used. If it is just the eyes, then an eye drop may be enough. If sneezing and a runny nose are the biggest annoyances, nasal sprays can work well. Saline nasal sprays or drops can decrease irritation, while steroid nasal sprays are good at reducing congestion. Steroids take up to seven days to work so short-term use of a nasal decongestant can relieve nasal congestion initially. Anti-histamine tablets or liquids help if hayfever is more severe and are taken once or twice daily, giving quick relief. There are also medicines called ‘mast cell stabilisers’ that stop the release of chemicals from cells that cause inflammation. A bit like steroids, they take longer to work, but last for longer in the body.

Other tips to relieve symptoms:

  • don’t rub your eyes as this makes inflammation worse
  • avoid areas with lots of grass, flowers, and trees at the time of year when you are affected by hayfever
  • wear wraparound sunglasses to protect your eyes from pollen
  • bath or shower and change clothes after being outside
  • get someone else to mow your lawn or do your gardening!
  • stay inside when pollen counts get high (higher on windy days, early morning and evening, and after a thunderstorm)
  • use a vacuum with a HEPA filter
  • cold compresses relieve soreness and swelling
  • artificial tears dilute and remove the allergen
  • dust with a damp cloth regularly to remove pollen that has settled on inside surfaces.

Disclaimer: This article provides general information only. It is not intended as medical or health advice and should not be relied on as a substitute for consultation with a qualified healthcare professional who understands your individual medical needs.

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