Hay fever- 5 treatment tips for Springtime
What causes hay fever?
Hay fever (also known as seasonal allergic rhinitis) is caused by an allergy to pollen. Pollen particles are released into the air by flowers, grasses and trees, particularly in Spring and Summer- causing runny nose, sneezing and itchiness of the throat, eyes and ears. It can be severe in some cases, with bouts of repeated sneezing, a constantly streaming nose and inflamed eyes. On a bad day, it can be almost impossible to work, study or socialise.
Some people get these symptoms all year round from other triggers, such as dust mites, moulds, chemicals, or exposure to dogs, cats or other animals- this is called perennial allergic rhinitis.
There are many treatment options. Some can be bought over the counter from a chemist, others require a prescription from a doctor-and many people will require more than one product to properly control their symptoms:
These come in tablet and liquid form, and work by stopping the chemical messenger “histamine” which is to blame for many of the symptoms of hay fever. Older antihistamines tend to cause drowsiness, but this is a less common problem with more recent ones such as Claratyne (Loratadine), Aerius (Desloratidine), Zyrtec (Cetirizine) and Telfast (Fexofenadine). Antihistamines are available over the counter from your pharmacy, and help many hay fever symptoms- though often a nasal spray will also be needed to fully control the nasal symptoms.
Corticosteroid sprays contain very low-dose steroids and are one of the best treatments for hay fever. They need to be used regularly for weeks or months to be effective. Common over-the-counter brands include Flixonase, Beconase and Nasonex. Avamys, Omnaris and Rhinocort are other effective steroid nasal sprays, which are prescription-only. Dymista spray contains a steroid AND a fast-acting antihistamine action. It can be very helpful, but tends to cost more than the others due to its 2-in-1 nature.
Decongestant nasal sprays are also available (such as Sudafed, Otrivine, Demazin and Dimetapp). Whilst they can give quick relief, they shouldn’t be used for more than 5 days as they can damage the lining of the nose. They are also unsuitable in pregnancy or if you have high blood pressure.
Leukotriene receptor antagonist
These medicines block the effect of leukotrienes – substances the body produces during an allergy. They can be taken together with antihistamine tablets and nasal sprays, and may be very effective, especially in people who also have asthma. Montelukast (Singulair) is available on prescription.
Anti-allergy eye drops may further relieve itch and watering if the above medications do not give full relief. Sodium Cromoglycate drops (Opticrom) are available from pharmacies.
In the past, steroid injections were often used to treat hay fever, but this has fallen out of favour due to the risk of side effects, including osteoporosis, high blood pressure and other issues.
Some allergy specialists offer courses of treatment which make your body build up tolerance to pollen or other hay fever triggers. It may be considered in severe cases. It can take years to work, and usually involves repeated injections with tiny amounts of the allergen/trigger. It’s very important you attend an experienced specialist if you wish to embark on this treatment.
For more information on hay fever, speak to your pharmacist or GP.
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