Six ways to beat seasonal sniffles

Hayfever is most common among young people and generally starts when they are in their teenage years. Photo:-Mike Shaughnessy

Hayfever is most common among young people and generally starts when they are in their teenage years. Photo:-Mike Shaughnessy

1. Know your enemy.

If you are a hayfever sufferer then arm yourself with as much knowledge as you can about it. An inflammatory condition of the nose caused by an allergy to pollen, it is estimated to affect from two to 10 per cent of the population between May and August. Asthmatics are more likely to suffer from it.

Sneezing, runny noses, itchy, streaming eyes, swollen eyelids, sore throat and a feeling of being puffed up are just some of the symptoms.

When sufferers come into contact with pollen, to which they have become sensitive, their body’s defence system tries to protect them. Special defence cells in the eyes and nose produce substances such as histamine which rapidly cause redness, itching and inflammation.

You may start to sneeze or develop a runny nose as your body tries to get rid of the pollen. Many sufferers also experience a range of less obvious symptoms including being blocked-up, irritable, congested, groggy and tired.

2. Establish who is most at risk.

Hayfever appears to affect more people nowadays than in the past. The reasons are unclear - it may be due to increased air pollution and a greater sulphur dioxide content which would explain why there is a higher incidence of it in urban areas. Global warming also affects it by extending the length of the season.

Males appear to be more prone to the condition. While it tends to strike early in life, it can occur at any stage. It can be inherited and it is not unusual for several members of the same family to be affected.

It is most common among young people and generally starts when they are in their teenage years. Symptoms tend to get worse over the first two to three seasons then remain steady for the next 20 to 30 years. Sufferers are more likely to develop it if they were born slightly before or during a pollen season. Once established it normally diminishes with age.

It is believed that about 80 per cent of people with asthma suffer from hayfever. Research carried out in Britain suggests that people living in towns and cities are twice as likely to suffer from hayfever as those in the countryside even though pollen levels are far lower.

3. Learn more about what triggers the condition.

Generally, wind pollinated plants, such as grasses, trees and nettles are responsible for causing hayfever due to the large amount of pollen they release into the atmosphere. Hot summer days can lead to high pollen counts whereas cool, overcast or rainy days give a low pollen count. Grasses start to release their pollen early in the day and if the weather is warm and clear, the pollen is carried high into the atmosphere as the temperature rises. In the afternoon the pollen returns to earth as the temperature falls. Cities tend to be hotter than country areas so the pollen tends to stay airborne until later in the day. The larger the city, the hotter the day. This results in two peaks each day in the pollen count; one in midmorning, the other in late afternoon/early evening.

4. Find out ways to avoid pollen.

Be informed about pollen count predictions. A count of 50 or above will generally be expected to result in symptoms. However, some sufferers may experience symptoms with counts as low as 10.

Keep doors and windows closed, especially in the mid-morning and late afternoon when the pollen count is usually at its highest. Stay indoors between 11am and 4pm, if possible.

If you like gardening do so on cold, dull days or immediately after or during rain. Grass flowers do not open on dull, wet days and rain washes pollen out of the atmosphere.

Generally, the best time to garden is first thing in the morning. Cool, damp mornings, especially when there is dew, mean pollen levels are low.

Use a clothes dryer rather than a washing line for drying bed linen. Plant protective shrubs around your garden to protect you from wind blown pollen.

Aim to avoid additional irritants, such as smoke and chemical fumes.

Avoid town centres as much as possible because polluted air traps pollen - on hot days high levels can last until the evening in cities.

Use fans rather than open windows to circulate air and keep cool on dry, sunny days.

World renowned naturopath, author and broadcaster Jan de Vries, who has lectured in Galway, says reactions to the pollen of certain trees, especially oak and birch, and to grass pollen are certainly well known. But it is also possible for fungi to act as an allergan.

In most cases desensitising is of prime importance.

5. Discover how best to help yourself.

There are a number of things you can do to minimise the discomfort caused by hayfever: Apply Vaseline to the inside lining of your nose to trap pollen. Wear wraparound sunglasses to stop pollen entering your eyes. Head to the coast for holidays where levels are lower. Keep your grass cut short.

Damp dust surfaces and either mop floors every day or use a vacuum cleaner with an efficient filter. Shower and shampoo before bed. Fit net curtains.

6. What treatments are available?

There is a wide range of treatments on offer for hayfever. These include eye drops, antihistamine medication (these treat sneezing, itchy nose, throat, etc, nasal sprays (these treat sneezing, itchy, runny nose and eyes as well as congestion and other less obvious symptoms, or injections, decongestant sprays and tablets as well as a number of natural remedies and therapies, including acupuncture. A daily dose of cod liver oil may help as it reduces inflammation. Some experts suggest that sufferers should avoid alcohol, nicotine, chocolate, spices, coffee and tea.

Drinking a herbal tea or a honey and lemon drink may be beneficial, too.

Ensure that your intake of vitamins, minerals and trace elements is adequate and remember to eat foods high in vitamin B complexes, manganese, chromium and iron. Garlic helps, also. Aromatherapy oils, such as eucalyptus or olbas, can be used in a burner while scented candles may also improve the air quality.

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