Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis otherwise known as Hay fever or pollen allergy

What are these?

They are all names given to people who suffer from a reaction to pollen . Either an allergy or a hypersensitivity.

Pollen is one of the most common causes of allergies in the UK

it is a very fine powder produced by trees, flowers, grasses, and weeds to fertilise other plants of the same species.

Many people have an adverse immune response when they breathe in the fine pollen dust.

The immune system normally defends the body against harmful invaders — such as viruses and bacteria — to ward off illnesses.

In people with hay fever, the immune system mistakenly identifies the harmless pollen as a dangerous intruder, it begins to produce chemicals to fight against the pollen. One of those chemicals is histamine hence the use of antihistamine. Histamine can cause inflammation so the use of steroids is often used

This is known as an allergic reaction, an IgE – immunological E response and the specific type of pollen that causes it is known as an allergen. The reaction leads to multiple irritating symptoms including :

stuffy nose
watery eyes

These symptoms occur only at the times when the specific pollen is released. For example, people who are allergic to birch pollen usually have increased symptoms during the spring when birch trees are in bloom. Grass in the summer and weeds and seeds in the Autumn.

A newish allergen to the UK is Ragweed. Which has migrated from the USA via Europe to the UK. Ragweed is one of the causes of the extended allergy season.

According to NHS data, approximately 20% of UK residents are hayfever sufferers.

The results of a survey with a sample size of 2,245 respondents found that individuals aged 45-54 were most likely to be affected by hay fever allergies, with 25% of this age group claiming to have the condition. Only slightly fewer people aged 35-44 were sufferers, with this figure sitting at less than half a percentage below the older age group’s, while 25-34-year-olds saw 23% of their number complaining of reactions to pollen. Those who suffered the least appeared to be the youngest and eldest age groups surveyed, with just 19% of 16-24-year-olds saying they have a hay fever allergy, and 22% of 55-64-year-olds claiming the same.

The allergy is unlikely to go away once it has developed. However, symptoms can be treated with medications and SLIT (Sublingual immunotherapy)

Making certain lifestyle changes can also be a positive help to relieve the symptoms associated with pollen allergies.

What are the different types of pollen allergies?

There are hundreds of plant species that release pollen into the air and trigger allergic reactions.

Here are some of the more common culprits:

Birch pollen allergy

Birch pollen is one of the most common airborne allergens during the spring. As the trees bloom, they release tiny grains of pollen that are scattered by the wind.

A single birch tree can produce up to 5 million pollen grains, with many traveling distances of up to 100 yards from the parent tree.

Oak pollen allergy

Like birch trees, oak trees send pollen into the air during the spring.

While oak pollen is considered to be mildly allergenic compared to the pollen of other trees, it stays in the air for longer periods of time. This can cause severe allergic reactions in some people with pollen allergies.

Grass pollen allergy

Grass is the primary trigger of pollen allergies during the summer months. Timothy grass (a popular agricultural grass) being a big offender

Ragweed pollen allergy

Ragweed plants are the main culprits of allergies among weed pollens. They’re the most active between the late spring and autumn months.

Depending on the location, however, ragweed may begin spreading its pollen as early as the last week of July and continue into the middle of October. Its wind-driven pollen can travel hundreds of miles and survive through a mild winter.

What are the symptoms of a pollen allergy?

Pollen allergy symptoms most often include:

nasal congestion
sinus pressure, which may cause facial pain
runny nose
itchy, watery eyes
scratchy throat
swollen, bluish-colored skin beneath the eyes
decreased sense of taste or smell
increased asthmatic reactions
Increase of eczema symptoms

How is a pollen allergy diagnosed?

Your doctor can usually diagnose a pollen allergy. However, they may refer you to an allergist for allergy testing to confirm the diagnosis.

An allergist is someone who specialises in diagnosing and treating allergies.

The allergist will first ask you about your medical history and your symptoms, including when they started and how long they’ve persisted.

Make sure to tell them if the symptoms are always present or get better or worse at certain times of the year.

The allergist will then perform a skin prick test to determine the specific allergen that’s causing your symptoms.

During the procedure, the allergist will prick different areas of the skin and insert a small amount of various types of allergens.

If you’re allergic to any of the substances, you’ll develop redness, swelling, and itchiness at the site within 15 to 20 minutes. You might also see a raised, round area that looks like hives.

How is hay fever treated?

As with other allergies, the best treatment is to avoid the allergen. However, pollen is very difficult to avoid.

You may be able to minimise your exposure to pollen by:

staying indoors on dry, windy days
having others take care of any gardening during peak seasons
wearing a dust mask when pollen counts are high (check the internet or the weather section of the local newspaper)
closing doors and windows when pollen counts are high

If you still experience symptoms despite taking these preventive measures, there are several over-the-counter (OTC) medications that may help:

antihistamines, such as cetirizine (Zyrtec) or diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
decongestants, such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed) or oxymetazoline (Afrin nasal spray)
medications that combine an antihistamine and a decongestant, such as Actifed (triprolidine and pseudoephedrine) and Claritin-D (loratadine and pseudoephedrine)
Desentisiation via sub lingual immunotherapy. Via a GP referral to a hospital Allergy department.

Home remedies

A number of home remedies may also help relieve pollen allergy symptoms.

These include:

using a squeeze bottle or neti pot (saline solution clears the nasal passages, lubricates the mucus membranes and supports the immune system) to flush pollen from the nose
trying herbs and extracts, such as PA-free butterbur or spirulina
removing and washing any clothing that has been worn outside
drying clothes in a dryer rather than outside on a clothing line
using air conditioning in cars and homes
investing in a portable high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter or dehumidifier
vacuuming regularly with a vacuum cleaner that has a
The use of Hay max to prevent pollen entering the nose

When to call the doctor

You should tell your doctor if your symptoms become more severe or if your medications are causing unwanted side effects.

Also, be sure to consult your doctor before trying any new supplements or herbs because some can interfere with the effectiveness of certain medications.

The takeaway

Pollen allergies can interrupt your everyday activities with sneezing, stuffy nose, and watery eyes. Lifestyle changes and medications can help reduce your symptoms.

Avoiding the trees, flowers, grasses, and weeds that trigger your allergies is a good first step.

You can do this by staying indoors when pollen levels are high, especially on windy days, or by wearing a dust mask to avoid breathing in the pollen.

Medications, both prescription and OTC, can also help reduce symptoms.

Remember if you have one allergy you will often have many. Hay fever symptoms should not occur all year round, reacting to house dust mites, moulds and certain foods will almost certainly extend the season.

If you or someone you know is suffering from hay fever or allergies please get in touch with Marlene at The Devon Allergy Clinic.

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