Bless you, it’s hay fever season. The pollen count is high and you’ve descended into a stuffy, runny, sneezing mess. Although many people see hay fever as very benign, even trying to ignore their own symptoms, it can deteriorate your quality of life. Now for some people, it might be a mild hindrance, but others can experience intense allergic bouts preventing them from feeling at their best for many months:
- Tree pollen March-April
- Grass pollen May-June
- Weed pollen July-August
Wait a minute here, that’s HALF the year, right? What if you have hypersensitivity to all these pollen types? You could have hay fever and not be in an optimal state for 6 months. Plus, just 1 hour of pollen exposure can lead to days and days of allergic reactions. I for one would hate that and I’m sure you do too, so let’s see what we can do about it.
To make matters worse, climate change could extend the pollen season in some areas of the world. Imagine having perennial hay fever…
What is an allergen?
Let’s define this first because it’s important to understand why you’ve got hay fever in the first place. So, this may feel like high school biology, but bear with me:
An allergic reaction is the result of a hyperactive immune response to a harmless allergen (the substance causing the reaction):
- The body is exposed to the antigen – it’s the foreign substance that’ll trigger the immune response
- The B cell is a type of white blood cell responsible for releasing antibodies
- The antibodies are produced, in this case, IgE: Immunoglobulin E, which is going to attach itself to anything the body sees as foreign: bacteria, viruses, foreign particles, etc. including our lovely pollen grains
- The IgE antibodies attach themselves to mast cells, resulting in the release of histamine. It’s this special little compound that produces the classic signs of an allergic reaction
- The memory T cells are there so that the next time you encounter the pollen allergen, the IgE mast cells are primed and ready to liberate the histamine. The macrophage is essentially there to ‘eat’ and dispose of the pollen antigen
Voila. Here’s your allergic reaction. Therefore, hay fever is an allergic reaction to, well, nothing. Your body is hypersensitive to pollen, and because it cares about you a lot, it’s producing a bunch of histamine. But there’s really no need. The pollen granules are harmless; it’s just that your body doesn’t know it, yet. Your body is attacking the pollen particulates in the same way it would an infectious disease.
Histamine is an inflammatory substance that stimulates nerve cells, causing blood cells in the mucous membranes to swell and leak fluid. Hence the runny nose etc.
Why do people suffer from seasonal allergies?
There are numerous symptoms, so let’s jot them down first:
- Hives (skin itching and redness)
- Watery/itchy eyes
- Runny/congested nose
- Asthma exacerbation
There are others, but these seem like the prime culprits.
You know, if you were to date back 200 years ago, very few people would have hay fever. Why? Because there was very little urbanization. There were more dense forests, trees, bushes, and grass. People were continually exposed to outdoors. One with nature, essentially. So as the population grew, civilization advanced, we cut down the trees and paved the grass with tarmac.
Remember, hay fever sufferers react to the pollen grains because their body sees it as foreign. They haven’t developed immunity to it. In order to overcome hay fever, your body has to adapt by increasing tolerance levels. And how’s it going to do that? By gaining a little bit of exposure, day-by-day, year-on-year. But modern society blocks this natural process. Think about it, if your spending the majority of your time in a concrete building within a city during winter, along comes the spring/summer pollination season, and you’re whacked with a high concentration of pollen right off the bat. Your body doesn’t like that.
There’s a far lower incidence of hay fever in developing countries and people who grew up in farms and rural villages. So although genetics plays a key role, so does the environment you grew up in.
Are there any real dangers?
Okay, so you may be thinking, it’s only watery eyes, how bad can it be! Well, you may be surprised. It can be quite severe for asthmatic patients, if you’re already ill and/or for children. What’s more, patients with hay fever are 3 times more likely to develop asthma.
So I guess we could say there are both chronic and acute effects. The latter being if your body takes a horrible allergic reaction and goes into shock. The effects can be harsh, sometimes fatal. Anaphylactic shock results in shortness of breath, very low blood pressure and headache. Now, this would be very rare with pollen exposure, but not inconceivable especially for a child. Picture this:
An asthmatic child who so happens to have a viral cold at the time. He/she is playing football with their friends outside in a particularly high pollen count day. And, they have undiagnosed hay fever. In combination with an elevated heart rate from playing, that’s quite a lot for a little body to handle, right?
I don’t mean to paint a scary picture in your mind. But hopefully, you get what I’m saying. It’s not inconceivable that something worse could come of it. And that’s why it’s best to see your doctor if you suspect you, or your child suffers from hay fever.
Managing your pollen allergy
Okay, so when you see your doctor, you’ll likely be presented with a few options, medication-wise.
- Immunotherapy – is a permanent solution, but it may take years. It involves a controlled exposure, and gradually increase the concentration of the allergen. It’ll probably just involve one doctor’s consultation to initiate the process, and then you’re left to administer the medicine yourself, at home. It’ll probably be orally administered
- Antihistamine – you guessed it, they block histamine production. Usually given as pills, you’ll want to start your course of medication a few weeks before the pollen season starts. Just make sure you follow your doctor’s guidance and packaging information
- Nasal sprays – cromolyn sodium is a main over-the-counter medication, and nasal ipratropium is a common prescription spray. Most nasal sprays aren’t effective for relieving congestion but do prevent a runny nose
- INS: intranasal corticosteroids – this type of spray will also treat congestion, nasal itching, and runny nose, so it’s one of the most effective medications. Steroid side effects would be very rare, especially when following doctors orders
As for best practices, we’ll call this allergen avoidance:
- Shower before bed each night – you’re getting rid of all the pollen particles that have nestled in your hair
- Wash bed sheets every week – many people would do this once every 2 weeks. If you’ve got hay fever, you’ll want to do this each week
- Wipe down your pets – just like your hair, a dogs fur is the perfect harbouring environment for pollen.
- Try to dry your clothes and bedsheets indoor – or only have them dry outside during the day when the pollen count is lowest. Again, pollen will accumulate in your clothes
Pollen Allergy Prevention
- Neti pot – it’s used as a nasal irrigation procedure where you rinse out your nose with a saline solution. Consequently, it can help with riding pollen from the mucous membranes in the nose
- Sunglasses and hats – eye protection means the pollen can’t get in there to cause irritation, and a cap or something with a wide brim will prevent accumulation in your hair
- Stay indoors – not forever, just when the pollen count is particularly high. The best pollen apps in the UK are very easy to use; personally, I prefer using the Met Office app as an inclusive package for all things weather-related in the UK. You’d also want to close your windows when the pollen count is high. Consult your preferred app to determine the pollen level
- Plan activities during the day – the pollen count is higher in the morning, lower during the day and increases again in the evening as it descends from the atmosphere when the air cools.
- HEPA filter – high-efficiency particulate air filters are great for cleansing the air of any particles 3 They’ll be great for removing a multitude of particles, so if you have any other allergies, such as dust, it could help with that too
- Nasal dilators – use one at nighttime. Simply insert it into your nose before sleep and it’ll provide a comfortable expansion in your nose, which will prevent mouth breathing and reduce snoring
I think this image below encapsulates hay fever management perfectly. Keep this image close to hand!
Doing all of the above will definitely make a difference in making your home a pollen-free zone. Well, to as low a level as reasonably practicable. Therefore, that’ll reduce your allergen exposure and help with pollen allergy prevention a lot.
Home remedies for pollen allergy prevention
You want to combat allergies with wholesome, natural foods.
Since we’ve mentioned the hay fever fighting foods, let’s just touch on the stuff to avoid…
Okay, you’ve seen how hay fever can be a real nuisance in everyday life. It can cause sleep deterioration, exacerbate asthma, decrease your concentration, etc. I’m sure you’d rather implement some fairly easy steps to make the condition a lot easier to handle. Heck, procedures like immunotherapy can actually make your hay fever go away. Believe it or not, there’s a cure. At the very least, you’ll be abating the symptoms with these pollen allergy prevention methods.
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