Sunday 26 February 2017

15 ways to survive Hay fever

For the 20pc of us who suffer to varying degrees with hay fever, the onset of summer can be a time of sheer misery, but Kathy Donaghy has some tips for minimising the symptoms of this seasonal scourge

Kathy Donaghy

Hayfever - there are steps you can take to minimise the symptoms.
Hayfever - there are steps you can take to minimise the symptoms.

The pollen released by plants, trees and grasses around this time of year triggers an allergic reaction in hay fever sufferers, leaving us scratching, sneezing, feeling congested and sometimes downright miserable. And while you can't lock yourself in a darkened, airtight room until the end of August, armed with the right information, there are some things you can do to make the sneezing season more bearable.

1 Know your symptoms and be prepared

The most common symptoms of hay fever or allergic rhinitis - to give it its medical name - are having a blocked nose, watery, runny eyes and sneezing but other symptoms can include headaches, having a reduced sense of smell, disrupted sleep, tiredness and even earaches.

Being prepared is everything in the battle against hay fever and, according to Sharon Cosgrove, CEO of the Asthma Society of Ireland, people frequently fail to prepare for the onslaught of the hay fever season.

"Start treatment early if you can. Try to identify when your symptoms start and what time of year is worst for you. This can help you determine what is triggering it, as different pollens and spores are active at different times of the year," she says.

2 Take preventative action

South Dublin GP, allergy specialist and author of the book Hay Fever - How to Beat it, Dr Paul Carson, says typically people leave it until they feel miserable before seeking medical attention. Ideally, he says, people should be going to the doctor before their symptoms present.

He says the first port of call should be a pharmacy to get an effective antihistamine and a rapid nasal spray to unblock the nose. If symptoms persist, he advises that people should visit their GP for a physical examination of symptoms.

For more severe cases, special anti-allergy tablets and steroids can be prescribed.

3 Be extra careful if you have asthma

Asthma Society of Ireland CEO, Sharon Cosgrove, warns that pollen is a significant trigger for asthma for many people and hay fever can make your asthma worse. An estimated 470,000 people in Ireland have asthma and 60pc to 80pc of these also have hay fever, making the summer months difficult.

The society says that it's really important that asthma sufferers have their preventer medication with them at all times.

4 Watch the pollen count

You wouldn't dream of going boating if a storm was forecast - the same can be said of planning around hay fever. Organise your summer outings around the pollen forecast.

The Asthma Society produces a pollen forecast which is available at asthma.ie. By doing this, you can plan your schedule and abandon trips when the pollen count is at its highest.

5 Cut down on alcohol

It's a good idea to cut down on alcohol if you want to minimise your hay fever symptoms. Beer, wine and spirits contain histamine, the chemical that sets off allergy symptoms in your body. As well as making you more sensitive to pollen, alcohol also dehydrates you, making your symptoms seem worse.

6 Get a good night's sleep

It's wise to avoid too many late nights during the hay fever season. A recent survey conducted by the UK-based National Pollen Aerobiology Research Unit found that those who got a good night's sleep tended to have the mildest symptoms. The study found that just one-in-eight people (13pc) who had at least seven hours sleep a night reported severe symptoms compared with one-in-five (21pc) who regularly had five hours sleep.

7 Eat well

The same survey suggested that people with hay fever who ate a healthy diet were less likely to get severe symptoms. Experts agree that there are some foods that can make hay fever symptoms worse for some people. These include apples, tomatoes, stoned fruits, melons, bananas and celery.

Hay fever sufferers are advised to eat foods rich in omega 3 and 6 essential fats, which can be found in nuts, seeds and oily fish. These foods contain anti-inflammatory properties and may help reduce the symptoms of hay fever.

8 Use technology to fight hay fever

Ireland's first hay fever app, Hay Fever Relief, developed by allergy expert Dr Paul Carson, can be downloaded for free from the App Store. By inputting their symptoms, sufferers can have their hay fever symptoms graded by severity. The app then recommends the best treatment.

"Many sufferers become accustomed to living a compromised quality of life. Younger generations are suffering more severe attacks," says Dr Carson.

"This app allows users to take control of their condition, giving them an accurate read on the severity and nature of their hay fever," he says.

Dr Carson, who has authored six popular health books dealing with allergy problems, explains that young people now seek their information online and this app is a way to help younger generations who are generally experiencing more aggressive forms of hay fever.

9 Be consistent with your treatment

Don't stop paying attention to your hay fever when your symptoms have eased. There's no harm in taking a daily antihistamine in summer if that's what your pharmacist has recommended. Topical treatments should also continue to maximise their preventative powers.

"Only taking medications occasionally on the worst days is much less effective," says Sharon Cosgrove, CEO of the Asthma Society.

"Keeping the treatment consistent throughout the whole season is the best policy," she says.

10 Don't go rolling around in the grass

It sounds obvious, but don't put yourself in situations where your symptoms are going to go into overdrive. So realistically, hay fever sufferers should avoid lush grassland where spores carrying the pollen grains are going to be plentiful.

On high pollen count days, it's a good idea to avoid being outdoors during the late morning and late afternoon. You should keep house and car windows closed during these peak pollen hours too.

If the grass needs cutting, let someone else do it. If you absolutely have to mow the lawn, wear a microfibre face mask. Yes, you might look strange but you won't end up sneezing for the rest of the day.

If you have been outdoors walking or gardening, the Asthma Society says it's a good idea to shower, wash your hair and change your clothes to reduce the amount of pollen you're carrying into your house.

During high pollen count days, the society warns not to dry your washing outdoors as pollen will stick to them.

11 Wear rock-star shades

Wear wrap-around sunglasses if you're going to be outdoors. You may not be Bono but you'll be doing yourself a big favour. Even on duller days, the pollen count can still be high. The wrap-around shades will help reduce pollen grains from entering the eyes. Those who suffer from hay fever can attest to the fact that once an eye gets itchy, it stays itchy.

12 Vaseline

It's cheap and easily available and Vaseline is a really valuable tool in the battle against hay fever. By smearing a dab of Vaseline inside each nostril, you will capture pollen entering the nasal passages. It's soothing for sore, red noses and acts as a balm to itchy eyes.

The Asthma Society also says it's no harm to splash your eyes with cold water regularly to help flush out the pollen and cool irritated eyes.

13 Plan for holidays

It's a terrible, sinking feeling to go on holiday and arrive at your destination only to realise that you've forgotten your medication or don't have enough to last the duration of your trip. It's a good idea to plan ahead and know exactly how much you need so you don't run out and have your meds on hand at all time.

14 Mind your pets

If you have furry pets, you may have to keep them outside the house during the hay-fever season. If this isn't possible, wash them regularly to remove the pollen from their fur.

15 Exercise more

The UK-based National Pollen Aerobiology Research Unit has found that regular exercise can improve your hay fever. It advises hay fever sufferers to aim for two-and-a-half-hours of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, such as cycling and fast walking every week.

However, during hay fever season, it's best to avoid exercising outdoors when the pollen count is high. This is generally first thing in the morning and early evening. Instead, exercise in late morning or afternoon when pollen counts tend to be lowest.

If pollen counts are really high, stick to indoor exercise, for example at your local gym or swimming pool.

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