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What is hay fever and how should you manage it?

Health & Nutrition

It is safe to say that summer has finally arrived. For some the summer is a time of glorious sunshine, BBQs and ice cream. For others June signifies the beginning of months of itchy eyes, an irritated nose and breathing difficulties. A problem that affects around 13 million people in the UK, hay fever, medically known as allergic rhinitis, is caused by an allergic response to outdoor or indoor allergens such as pollen.

When a hay fever sufferer comes into contact with a harmless airborne object such as pollen their body sees that substance as a threat. In response it produces antibodies to fight it. These antibodies prompt the immune system to release chemicals such as histamine into the blood stream. This causes a reaction that leads to the signs and symptoms of hay fever.

Our experts at London Allergy Specialists reveal what hay fever is, how it affects the body and what the most effective treatment options are.

What happens in the nose?

One of the main functions of the nose is to condition incoming air before it reaches the sensitive lungs. It adds moisture to the air by producing mucus, its large network of blood vessels warms the air and it also traps small particles floating in the air. For those who have hay fever, issues begin when the nose traps pollen or other particles that they are sensitive to. This induces immune system ‘mast cells’ in the nasal tissue to release chemicals such as histamine and leukotrienes. In turn blood vessels swell and mucus production soars. This creates nasal congestion and a runny nose. This can also compromise some of the nose’s other normal functions, such as smell.

What happens in the eyes?

When the troublesome allergens land near or in the eye they can cause irritation. The release of histamine into the bloodstream further exacerbates the problem as it causes inflammation and itchiness all over the body, particularly in the eyes. The most common symptoms are eye redness, watering, itching, sensitivity to light and puffy eyelids.

What happens in the throat?

For those who suffer from hay fever the throat can become sore, dry and itchy during the summer months. Not only is it extremely irritating, the sufferer may also find it difficult to breathe and swallow.

As explained previously, hay fever causes nasal congestion. This makes it difficult for the sufferer to breathe through their nose, forcing them to breathe through their mouth. As the mouth is not lined with hair and mucus in the same way that the nose is, it can quickly become dry, red and sore. In addition the excess mucus produced by the inflamed nasal passages and sinuses can drain to the back of the throat, in a process called post-nasal drip. This irritates the lining of the throat.
For those who suffer from asthma, hay fever can also increase their chances of suffering an asthma attack. The production of histamine can cause their already inflamed airways to swell up even more, leaving them fighting for breath.

How can you treat hay fever?

There is currently no ‘hay fever cure’; however there are many treatments available that help relieve the symptoms associated with it.

Antihistamine sprays or tablets:

Available over the counter, antihistamine tablets and sprays prevent the release of histamine. They can effectively prevent symptoms that are brought on by hay fever such as a runny nose, itching, sneezing and sore. However antihistamine medication cannot unblock congested sinuses. Traditionally antihistamine medication would cause drowsiness. Modern forms of the drug do not cause this issue.

Eye drops:

Hay fever eye drops commonly contain antihistamines, such as azelastine and olopatadine, to reduce the inflammation in your eyes. They can reduce itching and swelling in the eyes.

Corticosteroids:

Corticosteroids, widely known as ‘steroids’, are an anti-inflammatory medicine that help reduce the swelling caused by hay fever. Corticosteroids come in many different forms. Some of these include nasal spray, injections, oral tablets and inhalers. Steroids are a man-made version of hormones normally produced by the adrenal glands (two small glands found above the kidneys). When inserted into the body steroids reduce inflammation (swelling), thus alleviating symptoms.
Examples include fluticasone (Flonase), fluticasone (Veramyst), mometasone (Nasonex) and beclomethasone (Beconase).

Immunotherapy:

Immunotherapy can provide long-term hay fever relief by gradually desensitizing the immune system to the allergens that trigger the symptoms. It is usually received in the form of allergy shots or sublingual drops for people whose symptoms are serious and have not cleared up following other treatments.
Immunotherapy may lead to lasting remission of allergy symptoms, and it may help prevent the development of asthma and new allergies.
Injections are given by a doctor, but sublingual immunotherapy, or medication that is dissolved under the tongue, can be taken at home.

London Allergy Specialists

If you would like advice on how to deal with your hay fever or get a treatment plan tailored to your needs, our leading Consultants at London Allergy Specialists have exceptional experience and will advise you of the most appropriate treatment option to achieve the best possible outcome.

Our allergy experts offer a comprehensive service covering all aspects including food allergy, food intolerance, rash, eczema, asthma, and hay fever in all ages.

Based at the Hospital of St John & St Elizabeth, the centre offers state-of-the-art facilities and same day appointments.

Book an appointment

For appointments and enquiries please contact 0207 806 4060 or email info@hje.org.uk

Flexible appointment times are available.

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