Getting up your nose…

Getting up your nose…

Even though winter weather seems to be hanging on, daffodils and blossom signal that Spring is technically here. For allergy and hay fever sufferers the delayed start to the pollen season may bring some relief, but soon there will be pollens aplenty creating misery for many.

Hay fever (which sports the medical tag of allergic rhinitis) is an allergic reaction which results in inflammation of the lining of the nose and eyes. It can either be seasonal, as the result of exposure to pollens, or year-round, if the sufferer is unlucky enough to be badly affected by dust mites, domestic pet allergen or moulds.

Seasonal hay fever affects up to 30% of adults and 40% of children in New Zealand and its effect on people’s lives can be significant. About half of the people who are susceptible to it suffer symptoms for 4 months of the year. An unfortunate 20% will suffer for more than 9 months of the year. The most evident symptoms of hay fever include

  • sneezing;
  • a runny nose
  • puffy, itchy, watery eyes
  • a blocked nose (and sometimes blocked ears as well)

If your hay fever is severe and untreated it can result in you to sleeping poorly, make you more inclined to develop sinus or eye infections and (if you have asthma), can make your asthma more difficult to control. From a clinical point-of-view, you are considered to have persistent hay fever if you suffer significant symptoms for more than 4 days a week or more than four weeks at a time. Persistent symptoms and poor quality sleep can result in lethargy, impaired concentration and impact on learning in young children.

If you do suffer from seasonal hay fever it is challenging to reduce your exposure to triggers but there are a few things you can try. Pollen counts are generally the highest in the morning and on sunny, windy days with low humidity. Some practical pollen avoidance measures include:

  • Use a clothes dryer to finish drying bedding – this reduces the amount of pollen that may have settled while on the washing line
  • Wear glasses/sunglasses outdoors to reduce pollen contact with the eyes
  • Use your car air conditioning on recycle mode
  • Use a dehumidifier to reduce indoor humidity
  • If possible avoid mowing lawns or raking leaves (or wear a mask)
  • Have lawns mowed frequently to avoid flowering
  • Select garden species which are low pollen producers
  • Rub Vaseline inside your nose to stop the pollen from coming into contact with the lining of your nose.

For sufferers of perennial (year round) hay fever allergies, the challenge is to keep the home free from triggers such as pet dander, dust mites and mould. This can include:

  • Keeping pets outdoors, or at the very least out of bedrooms
  • Keeping your home well ventilated to avoid accumulations of moisture
  • Selecting vinyl or leather furnishings rather than soft covers
  • Using a vacuum cleaner which has a HEPA filter
  • Regular dusting with a damp cloth
  • Washing soft toys regularly or putting them in the freezer for 24 – 48 hours

If hay fever is persistent, then discussing it with your doctor is important so that you can establish a treatment plan which is right for you (or your child). There are a wide range of effective treatment options available and in general the goal is to achieve symptom control by using the lowest dose and number of medications.

More information is available here:

If  you’re interested in the physiological origins of seasonal and other allergic reactions, you can watch this short video: