Interesting term, hayfever - it’s got nothing to do with hay and you don’t get a fever!
With heat waves predicted for this summer and pollen counts currently high, many adults are experiencing hayfever for the very first time in their life, this year. Dr Chris Steele MBE, qualified GP, who features in ITV's This Morning every week, provides some explanation on the reasons behind this new phenomenon, as well as some useful tips on prevention.
Dr Chris explains, ‘It does happen and it is surprising. You’d expect that you’d be getting hayfever as a child or a teenager and it persisting for life. Well in fact, hayfever tends to get better as time goes on, but … some people can develop symptoms out of the blue, in adulthood.’
‘There may be at this time of year a sudden rise in a pollen that wasn’t around at such high concentration in previous years, because people don’t realise that you can be allergic to pollens from trees and hayfever symptoms then can start quite early: March and April. During the summer, you’re allergic to grasses mainly, then the autumn you may be reacting to weeds, to fungi and moulds, so it just depends what that substance is that you have become allergic to and of course, [you] could be tested by an allergy specialist , to see what [you] have become sensitive to.’
Dr Chris continues by explaining why allergies are on the increase. ‘I couldn’t remember people having asthma, hayfever, eczema, when I was at school. Certainly, hayfever … was not around 200 years ago and it seems to be on the increase, as most allergies seem to be. Well, what is the reason for this? No-one can give you a positive single answer, but… hayfever is more common in the cities than in the countryside – it’s known as urban hayfever.’
He explains why: ‘The reason being is that in the cities, we’re exposed to diesel fumes, to nitrous oxide from car engines and these sensitise your body and your immune system, which can then react very rapidly to even quite low levels of pollen in the atmosphere and maybe that’s why allergies are increasing across the board, that we’ve got pollution, we’ve got chemicals, insecticides, etc that we’re being exposed to, to a much larger extent now then what was happening say 50-60 years ago. That has got to have something to do with the overreaction of the immune system of people today.’
Hayfever is also hitting children and young people hard; ‘At this time of year, all those teenagers sitting exams, one in four teenagers have got hayfever. It’s affecting their performance. I think we should move the examinations to earlier or later into the year. Not at this time of the year, when they’re all suffering’, states Dr Chris.
And it seems that the term hayfever is actually quite an inaccurate description of this common condition, as Dr Chris states, ‘Interesting term, hayfever - it’s got nothing to do with hay and you don’t get a fever! The symptoms – sneezing, a blocked nose, a runny nose, itchy eyes, runny eyes, itchy nose, headaches, poor sleep, poor concentration and also a lot of patients I’ve met over the years complain of an itchy palette and end up scratching that palette with a pencil and also itching deep inside the ears, which you can’t get to … – can be very distressing.’
‘You should look to prevention, rather than treatment of the symptoms and obviously treatments are very effective. You’ve got the antihistamines, … very effective nasal sprays and eye drops, but there are ways of … reducing your exposure – by keeping the car windows closed, wearing wraparound sunglasses, avoiding mowing the lawn. There are all sorts of obvious things you can do – for example, when you come in from work, change your clothes and have a shower. If you’ve got a cat or dog wash the cat or wash the dog (the cat may not enjoy it!) More important interventions … are called pollen barriers.’
‘There are various drug-free approaches that one can use for hayfever, because the standard treatments such as antihistamines, you can’t use those in patients who are pregnant or breast-feeding. Some patients are very sensitive to side-effects, so it is of interest to look elsewhere . . . at ways of preventing the symptoms of hayfever, rather than just treating the cause. There’s one product which I know has been very popular with patients of mine and the public – it’s called HayMax … it’s like a balm, almost like a lip balm, but you apply it to just the inside of your nostrils … This catches a high percentage of pollen grains before they actually enter the nose, where they can attack the lining of the nose and cause that allergic reaction.’
‘For many years people have used [petroleum jelly] inside the nose and that has produced positive effects, but [petroleum jelly] melts very quickly at body temperature, so this is obviously a much improved product on [petroleum jelly] itself and certainly [HayMax] is catching about 60% of the pollen grains that you’re breathing in through your nose and that may well keep many people below the level of their sensitivity, so they’re actually not reacting as badly as they would do to pollen, and of course it’s safe, no side-effects, you can use in pregnancy and breast-feeding.’
‘And there’s another product called Nazaleze, which is like a powder you spray into the nostrils and that’s to block the pollen grains getting to the lining of your nose.’
‘… you may need to certainly consider talking to your pharmacist because a lot of these treatments now you can buy over the counter, rather than having to wait to see your GP to get a prescription.’
‘There is evidence out there that if you eat honey that is produced locally in the region where you live, those bees have been out there collecting pollen, but the downside to this argument is, those bees are collecting pollen from flowers. Hayfever, for most people, is a reaction to grasses and grasses are wind pollinated, whereas flowers are bee pollinated. But having said that, these bees will be picking up pollen, not just from flowers, but from grasses and trees as well and in making that honey, you’ve got the pollen in the honey, in small amounts, but could be enough to stimulate the immune system, to give you some protection against your local pollens.’
‘Red onions and apples contain what’s called a natural antihistamine, quercetin and also nuts and seeds and fish oils that contain essential fatty acids may help. But if you’re getting quite marked symptoms, I think you need to do something a bit more powerful than just changing your diet.’
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