This week, Dr Benedict Smith discusses Hay Fever
Published: 11 May, 2012
HAVE you ever noticed Tiger Woods’ eyes watering as he searches for his golf ball in the rough?
Or Kate Winslet sneezing her way up the red carpet? No? Well maybe they are sticking to their medication.
Like up to 20 per cent of the population in the UK, Tiger and Kate suffer from hay fever.
Let’s face it, they have access to expensive specialist doctors, but the treatment they take for their annoying symptoms is almost certainly the same as you or I would take.
The hay fever season is well and truly upon us and for some unlucky people the associated symptoms can carry on until late summer.
Hay fever (or allergic rhinitis) is caused by an allergy to pollen which can come from trees, plants and flowers.
The most troublesome trigger is grass pollen.
The allergy causes inflammation in the nose and other areas around the face including the eyes and throat and the classic symptoms are sneezing, runny or blocked nose, itchy watery eyes and an itchy throat.
Some people have more severe symptoms including headaches, wheezing and pain in the face.
Symptoms can affect concentration at work or school, with the exam season coinciding horribly with peak hay fever season.
Unfortunately, it is not possible to avoid pollen, but there are a few simple steps you can take: try to steer clear of large grassy areas, particularly if it has been recently cut; shower and wash your hair after being outside; keep your car and home windows shut (you can buy pollen filters for car air vents); wear wraparound sunglasses to protect your eyes.
So, how to treat it?
No one treatment is best, and you may need to try a few until you find the one (or more) that suits you.
Treatments are aimed at reducing the inflammation which is caused by a chemical called histamine.
One option is to take antihistamine tablets or liquid.
Be sure to choose one that does not make you drowsy if you need to work, operate machinery or drive.
Such medication may be the only thing you need, but antihistamine nose sprays are good for providing quick relief of a runny, itchy nose.
They can be used as and when you need them.
Steroid nose sprays are good for all nose symptoms (including a blocked nose) and they can also help eye symptoms too.
It is important to use the spray regularly as it takes a while for it to have its full effect.
It is best to start it a couple of weeks before the hay fever season starts.
You can use a steroid nose spray in addition to taking antihistamines.
When your symptoms are under control, you can reduce the dose of the spray you take to a lower dose to keep on top of symptoms.
Decongestant nose sprays can be very helpful at unblocking a congested nose but you must not use them for more than 7 days, otherwise they can make things worse.
It can be an idea to use a decongestant spray for a few days when you first start a steroid nose spray, but then stop it and continue the steroid spray.
Eye drops can also be used on top of other treatments if necessary.
Again there are antihistamine eye drops that can be used on an “as required” basis, and they work quickly.
There are other eye drops that need to be taken regularly to prevent symptoms.
There are many brands of all of the above medications available to buy in your local pharmacy.
Ask your pharmacist for further advice.
If your symptoms are very severe, or continue despite the above treatments, consult you GP.
So good luck and hopefully with some of the above advice everyone will be able to enjoy the spring and summer ahead!
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