As we move into the summer months it's important to be well informed about the best ways to stop hay fever from ruining your day.
What is an allergy?
Allergy (or hypersensitivity) is an abnormal reaction to a normal dose of protein substances (allergens) that occur naturally.
If a person is exposed to allergens, the body's immune system reacts to them in the way it would react to any "dangerous" protein. There is an allergic reaction every time the body is exposed to the allergen. The immune system overreacts and releases a substance called histamine.
The most common allergen is pollen, usually from grass or trees. This is commonly referred to as hay fever, medically known as allergic rhinitis.
Other common allergens include:
- Animals (pet dander)
- Food - particularly nuts, shellfish, fruit and eggs
- Household Chemicals
- House Dust Mites
- Medication – particularly penicillin
Symptoms of allergy / hay fever
Below is a list of common symptoms which could indicate allergic reaction.
- A blocked OR runny nose
- Red, watery, itchy eyes
- Itching throat
All of these symptoms can be easily managed by your local community pharmacist. Please see below for possible treatment options.
Please Note: A severe and sudden allergic reaction can develop within seconds after exposure to an allergen. This type of reaction is known as anaphylaxis and results in life-threatening symptoms including swelling of the airway, inability to breathe, and a sudden and severe drop in blood pressure. If you experience this type of allergic reaction, seek immediate emergency help.
Your local M&D Green pharmacist is an expert in medication. They will recommend the best treatment option available. Possible options for treating allergy and hay fever include:
- Antihistamines. These are the best known and most common type of allergy medication. They help control the symptoms caused by the release of the inflammatory chemical called histamine which is released when you come into contact with your allergy trigger. They are readily available from community pharmacy and can be supplied in different forms. These can be used in isolation for mild forms of allergy or can be used alongside localised treatment for more specific symptoms.
- Eye drops can be used to treat watery, red, itchy eyes. Usually they contain anti allergy and/or anti inflammatory properties. These prevent histamine release and reduce redness and irritation.
- Nasal Sprays. These nasal sprays usually contain a corticosteroid. These mimic cortisol - a natural anti inflammatory substance the body produces. Nasal sprays are highly effective in treating hay fever and other airborne allergy symptoms. They are sprayed directly in the nose, where allergic reactions to airborne allergens start. They also work to relieve eye symptoms and go further than antihistamines to relieve the groggy congested feeling that you can get as a late phase symptom. Nasal sprays can help prevent symptoms developing with regular use, however regular use of these medications should be discussed with your pharmacist or GP.
Our community pharmacists are easily accessible and have a range of products mentioned above available to treat allergic reactions. These can usually be purchased over the counter or prescribed if the patient is eligible to benefit for the Minor Ailments Scheme. For more information on this, please discuss with your local pharmacy.
Practical Hints and Tips
Different plants pollinate at different times of the year, so the months you get hay fever will depend on what sort of pollen you're allergic to.
Typically, people are affected during spring (trees) and summer (grasses).To help keep your hay fever under control, you can:
- check weather reports for the pollen count and stay indoors when it's high, if possible
- avoid drying clothes and bedding outside when the pollen count is high
- wear wraparound sunglasses to protect your eyes
- keep doors and windows shut when possible
- shower and change your clothes after being outside
- avoid grassy areas, such as parks and fields, particularly in the early morning, evening or night, when the pollen count is highest.
To help keep your allergies under control, you can:
- keeping pets outside as much as possible, or limiting them to a particular area of the house, preferably an area without carpet
- not allowing pets in bedrooms
- washing pets at least once a week
- regularly grooming pets outside
- regularly washing all bedding and soft furnishings pets lie on
- using an air filter in rooms where you spend most of your time
- increasing ventilation with fans or air conditioning, or by opening windows
By law, food manufacturers must clearly label any foods that contain something that's known to cause allergic reactions in some people.
By carefully checking the label for the list of ingredients, you should be able to avoid an allergic reaction.
People with food allergies most often experience an allergic reaction while eating out at a restaurant.
You can avoid this by:
- not relying on the menu description alone (remember, many sauces or dressings could contain allergens)
- communicating clearly with the waiting staff and asking for their advice
- avoiding places where there's a chance that different types of food could come into contact with each other, such as buffets or bakeries
- letting restaurant staff know your dietary requirements, including how severe your food allergy or intolerance is
- always checking what allergens are in the dish, even if you have eaten it before, as recipes and ingredients can change