Dr Ciara Kelly: Hay fever is on the march all over the country, but don't worry, you can fight it
Hay fever is on the march all over the country, but don't worry, you can fight it
Are you one of the squillions of people who are suffering from hay fever, allergic rhinitis, conjunctivitis, sinusitis or head colds at the minute? If so, don't go anywhere because this week's column is all about you.
There are no two ways about it - the pollen count is very high, it being the middle of summer, and that coupled with our Irish predisposition to atopy (the tendency towards asthma, eczema, hay fever and allergies) means that surgeries around the country are filled with people who look like they've just cried their eyes out. Sniffles, streaming eyes, sinus congestion and post-nasal drips are the order of the day.
There isn't really a cure for hay fever, so management is what you're aiming for. That basically means, whilst triggers like pollen are prevalent and your symptoms are active, you need to be taking steps to treat them but also to prevent them getting worse. In other words, you'll probably have to take a daily medication to keep things at bay.
Anti-histamines are the mainstay of treatment to control the allergic component, and you may need to use them in high doses. Over-the-counter anti-histamines are fine, but if you are taking the maximum dose and still suffering, you may need to head to your GP for an add-on anti-histamine and use two in combination.
Topical steroid nasal sprays can help alleviate the congestion and irritation in the sinuses and naso-pharynx and help with hoarseness and the feeling of your ears blocking. Other types of sprays - saline or anti-allergy can also be used. These may not be as effective but can be useful, as not everyone can tolerate steroid sprays.
Eye drops to soothe the allergic conjunctivitis can also be helpful, and can be bought over the counter as well. And if eyes are becoming irritated and almost crusty, cleaning them with cold black tea is a nice old wives' remedy that actually has some benefit.
If you are very prone to this, and find your sinuses are blocking up on a daily basis from the irritation, it's important to clear them regularly. Blow your nose to kingdom come in the steamy environs of your shower to shift as much as you can, and use a sinus rinse once or twice a day - they're not pleasant but they are effective, and no, you won't choke!
When all else fails and you've done all of the above and are still bad, you will likely need oral steroids from your GP. A short course is often the game-changer and will shrink your puffy face back down to its normal size and return you to feeling human again. However, sometimes you can be unlucky, and while the hay fever is raging on an infection can develop in your sinuses or your eyes, or indeed anywhere else in your upper airway. Sinusitis or conjunctivitis are the most common infections and will often need an antibiotic - or a topical ointment if it's your eyes. You'll usually know if an infection has set in as you'll start to feel a lot worse - generally unwell, headachy, flu-like and fairly rotten.
For those who are taking regular antihistamines, sprays, rinses and the divil knows what, and still seem to be affected there's another daily prescription medication that might be worth trying - Montelukast. It works a little bit like an antihistamine - it doesn't work for everyone but for those for whom it does and who aren't being sorted by other meds, it can be almost miraculous.
The last thing to say is, of course, avoidance! If you know you are prone to all this don't go outside when your neighbour is cutting the grass. And don't go for a lovely country walk in the middle of pollen season! A bit of Vaseline up the nose is a good idea too, and don't be too rough with those tissues.
Sunday Indo Living