Why are so many people affected by hay fever this year? A late spring has meant that the tree pollen has been delayed long enough to coincide with the summer grass pollen season, leading to higher than usual pollen levels during the worst period for the majority of hay fever sufferers. Increasing traffic volume on our roads may also play a part, as there is evidence to show that pollens can be carried deeper into the lungs and stick more easily to the nose lining if they are attached to particles from diesel exhausts. Add to that some gusty wind or heavy rain showers to stir up the pollen and you have the perfect recipe for hay fever!
So, what is hay fever? It is an allergic reaction to the pollen entering your system, in which your immune system mistakenly identifies it as a harmful pathogen, such as a virus. In an attempt to prevent the spread of this perceived threat, the body releases chemicals including histamines, which cause localised inflammation and congestion in the affected tissues and an increase in mucus production, leading to symptoms similar to the common cold.
How can the symptoms be relieved? In terms of medication, antihistamines inhibit histamine release in the body, reducing the severity of the symptoms. Steroid nasal sprays are another popular choice and can be used together with antihistamines; they reduce local inflammation in the nose so work very well for nasal symptoms. Other methods of controlling hay fever include staying indoors with the windows shut as much as possible when the pollen count is high, showering and washing your hair when returning from long periods outdoors, and drying laundry inside rather than outside. Garlic contains natural antihistamines and foods rich in omega-3 are known to have anti-inflammatory properties. Finally, many people swear by a spoonful of local honey a day and although the evidence to support this remedy is lacking, it makes a nice alternative to sugar in your green or black tea, both of which contain anti-oxidants that can help reduce the inflammation of hay fever!