Hayfever – what is it?
Hayfever is caused by an abnormal (or allergic) reaction of the body to pollen coming into contact with the nose, eyes or throat. The body’s immune system reacts to this usually ‘harmless’ substance as it thinks that, for some reason, it is ‘harmful’ – as if the body were being attacked by a potent virus.
As the immune system over-reacts, it releases large amounts of a chemical known as histamine. This causes itching, inflammation and irritation in the local tissue. Why the immune systems of people with hayfever over-react in this way is not known.
Pollen causing hayfever can come from grass, trees or flowers. In temperate climates such as in the UK and Ireland, pollen levels increase dramatically in spring as Nature comes to life.
As the weather warms up, grass, bushes, trees and other plants grow and develop in a coordinated fashion. In this way, pollen levels are highest during spring and early summer. In countries which are warm all year round, plants do not have these coordinated phases as they are able to grow and flower all year round. This explains why hayfever does not tend to be a problem in say, tropical countries.
Pollen levels in the UK are very much dependent on the weather. A week of dull rainy weather followed by a few days of warm sunshine, can drive pollen levels sky high – not good news for those with hayfever.
People suffering from hayfever may also be more sensitive to one form of pollen than another. This adds to variations in symptoms from month to month and also, from one area of the country to another.
The main symptoms of hayfever are experienced in the eyes, nose and throat. These include:
- Itchy or runny nose
- Irritation at the back of the throat
- Itchy or runny eyes
- Blocked nose
- Dry cough
When severe, hayfever can give rise to a general feeling of being unwell as the immune system sets off such a strong reaction affecting the whole body that one has to take to one’s bed – this is said to explain the ‘fever’ bit of hayfever. In some, high pollen levels can also trigger asthma.
One of the obvious ways to prevent hayfever is to either avoid, or reduce the amount of pollen one comes across.
In general, pollen counts peak at mid-morning and early evening on dry days. Sunny weather means more pollen and counts are higher on a windless day. However, we can’t control the weather, so steps that you can take to reduce your exposure to pollen include:
- Avoid coming into contact with pollen by steering clear of fields and parks (lots of grass), or sitting next to a bunch of cut flowers
- Keeping your windows shut when the weather is good, especially bedroom windows
- Drive with your windows shut. If your car has air-conditioning, use it
- If you have been outdoors, shower and change into clean clothes as soon as you get indoors
- Wear those trendy wrap-around glasses to protect your eyes, even on a dull day
- Finally, keep an eye on pollen counts using weather reports.
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Information from https://www.avogel.co.uk/health/hayfever/