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Spring has sprung: which is great because, if I’m honest, I was over winter as soon as it started. With the sun now shining longer, leaves on trees beginning to return, flowers blooming everywhere—returning some much-needed colour and brightness to winter’s dull kingdom—even birds seem happier. People generally are happier too, if not for that one, small, annoying thing that affects most of us this time of year: hay fever.

Allergic rhinitis, more commonly known as hay fever, affects up to 1 in 5 Australians. Despite its name hay fever is not caused by hay and does not result in a fever. (Who comes up with these names?)

Hay fever is caused by environmental allergens—things such as pollen, dust mites, moulds and animal dander—coming into contact with the eyes and/or nose. Your nose acts as a filter, with tiny hairs and mucus trapping dust, pollens and other tiny particles. A person with hay fever is allergic to particles that become trapped in the nose. An allergic reaction means that the immune system is kick-started to launch an attack on the foreign substance. As a result, the person may experience symptoms of hay fever, including:

  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Itchy throat, nose and ears
  • Red, Itchy or watery eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Headaches

Symptoms range from mild to moderate (doesn’t affect day to day function), to severe (affects day to day function) and tends to persist unless correctly treated. Hay fever may occur in a particular season due to increased grass, weed or tree pollen allergies, but can be present all year round from allergies to house dust mites, moulds and animal dander.

How can you manage hay fever? Identifying the allergen(s) causing the symptoms and minimising exposure, is a major part in the management of hay fever. You may need to see your GP for allergy testing. Medications can also be taken to relieve symptoms of hay fever. Again, see your GP or pharmacist for advice. Some common medications include:

  • Antihistamine tablets, syrups, intranasal sprays and eye drops: helps to reduce symptoms. Not effective in severe runny/congested nose.
  • Intranasal corticosteroid nasal sprays: have a strong action on inflammation
  • Decongestant tablets, sprays: aim to unblock and dry the nose but should be used with caution as they can have undesirable side effects. Sprays may cause long-term damage to the nose lining and tablets can cause tremors, trouble sleeping, anxiety and increase blood pressure.
  • Natural products: such as saltwater nasal sprays
  • Allergen immunotherapy: also known as desensitisation, involves exposing a person to increasing amounts of the allergen—via injections or sublingual (under the tongue) tablets, sprays or drops—to improve tolerance and reduce symptoms. This is conducted under medical supervision and treatment is usually 3-5 years and offered to people with severe hay fever.

Tips to reduce symptoms of hay fever this spring:

  1. Splash eyes with cold water to flush out allergens
  2. Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from pollen
  3. Smear some Vaseline inside your nose when you are outdoors to help trap pollen and stop it reaching the inner lining of the nose
  4. Reduce exposure to dust/dust mites and animals/animal hair and fur (dander)
  5. Avoid activities known to cause exposure to pollen e.g. mowing the lawn or if you can’t avoid this, wear a face mask
  6. Shower after outdoor activities, to rinse off any pollen you might have been exposed to
  7. In the car, use recirculated air when pollen levels are high and close the windows
  8. Dry bedding and clothing indoors, or in a tumble dryer if possible, after washing

Hay fever can put a downer on spring, but use the tips on managing symptoms of hay fever above and share in the comments if you have any more! As always, seek the advice of your GP or pharmacist if you’re not sure what works for you.