Hay fever is the common name for seasonal allergic rhinitis. The name ‘hay fever’ originally came about from late summer reactions to grass pollens seen during hay making.
Children more affected than adults
Hay fever is widely used to describe the combination of sneezing, runny noses, itchy eyes and itchy mouth suffered by as many as 20-30% of the Irish population. Children are more affected than adults but may not blow their noses. Instead they sniff, snort, cough or scratch the roof of their mouth, with their tongue causing a clicking sound to occur.
For many, hay fever is seasonal occurring mainly over spring and summer. For others, symptoms are year-round as different triggers appear as the seasons change. It is common for hay fever and other allergic conditions to run in families. For an illness that can seem to be minor, hay fever can cause sufferers to become miserable, tired, irritable and have more days off work or school compared to non-sufferers.
Links to eczema, food allergies and asthma
Hay fever is a form of allergy related to eczema, food allergies and asthma. Substances found in the environment cause an out of proportion defensive response, where the immune system reacts to seemingly harmless stimulants.
Allergens such as pollen, mould, animal hair, dust and dust mites, insect stings, latex, medicines and foods can all trigger allergic responses. Our immune system is designed to primarily protect us from infection, but it doesn’t always get it right!
For people with both hay fever and asthma, managing hay fever properly is important, as uncontrolled hay fever can promote asthma attacks.
What treatment option is best?
Most people treat their hay fever based on the level of symptoms they have. For many, antihistamine liquids or tablets taken when symptoms are present works well. For others, where attacks can last for days or weeks, daily antihistamines can be a longer term option. Some of the most popular brands are Cetrine, Zirtek and Clarityn.
More recent antihistamines are free of the sleepiness caused by the older sedating antihistamines, however sometimes these older antihistamines are still used. Available only with the authorisation of a doctor or pharmacist, sedating antihistamines can impact day to day function. They can cause extra sleepiness when added to some medicines, and pose risks when driving.
When hay fever occurs on most days during a particular season, or throughout the year, the use of a preventative nose spray is recommended. These sprays e.g. Flixonase, Beconase and Nasacort amongst others, reduce the effects of allergens by blocking the response at several trigger points. These sprays take a few days to significantly reduce symptoms and must be used every day to maintain their preventative effect.
When an oral antihistamine is not enough to control symptoms more local treatment can be effective. There are antihistamine eye drops and nose sprays which allow treatment directly to the site of irritation. Some antihistamine eye drops can be used as both a treatment and long-term preventer, some of these are available without prescription eg. Opticrom