How to get rid of hay fever
Hay fever is one of the most common reasons for people to attend their doctor in Spring and Summer, as pollen levels soar. Quite often by the time they come to their GP, hay fever sufferers have already tried numerous products from the pharmacy, from tablets to nasal sprays, but still have symptoms. And sometimes people just feel overwhelmed by all the different treatment options and don’t know where to start.
What exactly is hay fever?
Hay fever is also known as Allergic Rhinitis. The typical symptoms of hayfever are:
- runny nose
- nasal congestion
- itchy eyes
- itchy throat
Hay fever is an allergic response to airborne allergens- for many people, this is seasonal and relates to pollen. You can be sensitive to specific pollens from certain plants, trees and grasses, or to multiple types of pollen. Hay fever symptoms can occur all year round if people are allergic to dust mites or pets.
So how do doctors treat hay fever?
Doctors will consider a variety of approaches, depending on what has already been tried by the patient, and how severe the symptoms are.
Antihistamine tablets are available over the counter in pharmacies. It’s usually advised to take an antihistamine tablet every day during peak hay fever season. Sometimes doctors may advise taking two different antihistamines to manage severe symptoms, though this should not be done without discussing with a doctor first. Most of the commonly available over-the-counter antihistamines are said to be “non-drowsy”, but some people will still feel tired or drowsy while taking them, and sometimes they do not fully control the symptoms. If that’s the case, you might need to consider adding in nasal sprays and eye drops instead of (or in addition to) an antihistamine.
Which nasal sprays are worth trying?
People who get hay fever for long periods during Spring or Summer will often benefit from preventive treatment with a steroid nasal spray. There are a few brands available without prescription at pharmacies. It can take a few weeks of daily use before these sprays begin to give results. If not helping, there are also combined “2 in 1” spray- these are prescription-only, so you’ll need to see your doctor.
It is important NOT to use “decongestant sprays” on a regular basis- there are many of these available over the counter but they can cause a lot of problems if used for more than a few days.
Do eye drops help hay fever?
Several types of eye drops can be used to treat itchy eyes in hay fever- most of them need to be used at least twice a day to be effective. There are many different ones available from pharmacies without prescription.
Other medications and treatment options for bad hay fever
If eye drops, nasal sprays and antihistamines and are not enough, your doctor may consider a newer type of medication known as a “leukotriene antagonist” . These work a little like antihistamines. Whilst they are more frequently used as asthma preventers, they can also be effective for hay fever. They are usually well tolerated- side effects can include mood changes and headaches.
If you have severe hay fever that is not responding well to the above treatment, your GP may refer you to an allergy specialist for testing and consideration of immunotherapy- a course of injections that aims to desensitise you to pollen or other triggers.