Bust the myths about hay fever


AS hay fever sea­son be­gins around 18 mil­lion peo­ple in the UK will soon be suf­fer­ing from its ef­fects. Sur­pris­ingly though, for such a com­mon al­lergy, there are still many old wives’ tales about the de­bil­i­tat­ing con­di­tion...

MYTH: You grow out of it

This is a com­mon mis­con­cep­tion but, sadly, ac­cord­ing to the NHS, only half of suf­fer­ers be­lieve their symp­toms have im­proved af­ter sev­eral years. But for a lucky 10-20% of cases, the symp­toms dis­ap­pear com­pletely af­ter a num­ber of years.

MYTH: You only get it in the spring and sum­mer

It is true that grass pollen is re­leased dur­ing spring and sum­mer, but other pol­lens can also cause a re­ac­tion and these are re­leased at var­i­ous times of the year. Many peo­ple are al­ler­gic to tree, grass and weed pol­lens which means they can have hay fever symp­toms from as early as Jan­uary to as late as Novem­ber.

MYTH: You’re al­ler­gic to flow­ers

The pollen that’s most likely to cause an al­lergy is the air­borne type, from grass, trees and weeds.

Grass pollen is the most com­mon hay fever al­ler­gen and af­fects around 95% of suf­fer­ers. Most flow­ers have pollen too heavy and sticky to be car­ried through the air.

MYTH: An­ti­his­tamines make you drowsy

An­ti­his­tamines help re­lieve the symp­toms of hay fever and in the past had a rep­u­ta­tion for caus­ing drowsi­ness. How­ever, sci­ence has moved on and the sec­ond or third­gen­er­a­tion ver­sions don’t cause drowsi­ness in most peo­ple.

MYTH: Rain clears pollen

Again, there is some truth in this be­cause rain will tem­po­rar­ily clear the air of any pollen. The prob­lem is that stormy weather has the op­po­site ef­fect and breaks up pollen par­ti­cles, in­creas­ing the pollen count and mak­ing the par­ti­cles eas­ier to in­hale.

Stormy weather will also cause move­ment in the air, bring­ing pollen grains down from above head height while at the same time stir­ring up the pollen grains near the ground.

Hay fever suf­fer­ers also need to be mind­ful of asthma dur­ing these storms as re­search shows that a large pro­por­tion of peo­ple who suf­fer asthma for the first time dur­ing a thun­der­storm have hay fever.

MYTH: Hay fever starts when you’re young

The symp­toms do usu­ally start in child­hood or in your teens and at that age they tend to af­fect boys more than girls. How­ever, that doesn’t mean you can’t get it as an adult.

In fact, a 2010 study showed a huge surge in late-on­set hay fever cases and ex­perts agree this is be­com­ing more com­mon. Sci­en­tists be­lieve this could be due to cli­mate change, pol­lu­tion, new species of plants in the UK and the trend to­wards in­creas­ingly ster­ile homes.

MYTH: An­ti­his­tamine medicines stop work­ing af­ter a while

Hay fever symp­toms fluc­tu­ate be­tween mild and se­vere all the time, de­pend­ing on the pollen count and your ex­po­sure to it. When symp­toms are mild, peo­ple be­lieve their med­i­ca­tion is work­ing but as they get worse they of­ten be­come con­vinced they’ve de­vel­oped a tol­er­ance to an­ti­his­tamines.

This isn’t the case. Your symp­toms will have in­creased sim­ply be­cause your hay fever has got worse or you’ve had more ex­po­sure to pollen.

An­ti­his­tamines can be taken for pro­longed pe­ri­ods of time with­out be­com­ing less ef­fec­tive. How­ever if over-the-counter medicines aren’t work­ing, see your GP who can pre­scribe a stronger an­ti­his­tamine.

MYTH: Lo­cal honey helps to pre­vent hay fever

Many peo­ple swear that a tea­spoon of lo­cal honey each day de­sen­si­tises you to pollen and helps al­le­vi­ate hay fever symp­toms. Sadly, there is no sci­en­tific ev­i­dence to sup­port this.

In fact, bees don’t pol­li­nate grass and trees, and the pollen in honey is the heavy, flower-based pollen that doesn’t cause hay fever.

MYTH: I’ll be fine if I’m on the beach

Sadly this isn’t quite true, so if you’re plan­ning to de­camp to the beach for some respite you might want to think again. It’s com­mon to find grassy ar­eas close to beaches, so even on the sand you can be ex­posed to grass pollen.

If the wind is blow­ing off the sea on to the land your symp­toms might be bet­ter for a while but if you’re on the beach and the wind is blow­ing off the land, the pollen count will be higher.

MYTH: I should only take an­ti­his­tamines when the pollen count is high

Ex­perts say most al­lergy medicines work best if they are al­ready in the per­son’s sys­tem or are taken im­me­di­ately af­ter ex­po­sure to the al­ler­gen. That is the case even if you have shown no al­ler­gic symp­toms as it is likely you might al­ready have in­flam­ma­tion in your air­ways, even if you haven’t no­ticed it.

So even if your symp­toms are rel­a­tively mild they may well worsen as the hay fever sea­son pro­gresses and the in­flam­ma­tion in­creases. Speak to a phar­ma­cist about the best way to keep symp­toms at bay.

Grass, tree and weed pollen cause al­ler­gies while flower pollen is too heavy and sticky to be air­borne

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