‘Tis the season for Hayfever
Spring and summer are wonderful seasons – colourful, warm, and full of new life and adventure around every corner. But for some, this time of year is full of misery and pain; runny noses, non-stop sneezing, itching eyes, sore throats, and all manner of different – and disastrous – complaints. It’s hayfever season, and those who suffer can have a truly terrible time, despite the nice weather. Or rather, because of it.
by Lisamarie Lamb
What is Hayfever?
Hayfever is a bit of a mystery. Scientists know that hayfever is an allergy, and that it causes the immune systems of those who are affected to go haywire, detecting something harmless (pollen) but telling the body that something dangerous is attacking it. The immune system goes into overdrive, mounting a response in the best way it knows how – by trying to rid the body of the assailant. This can be in the form of sneezing, watering eyes, itchy skin, and many more tricks that the body has to combat the perceived problem. But as to why that mistake is made, no one is quite sure. Studies are, however, ongoing.
Why Some and Not Others?
Not everyone suffers from hayfever, and not everyone who does suffer is affected to the same degree, or has the same symptoms. This all depends on how a person’s immune system reacts to pollen – with some studies suggesting that it’s all in the genes. Research has shown that many cases of hayfever are genetic, and that if one or both parents suffer, then their offspring will also be sneezing and spluttering when summer rolls around.
That isn’t always the way it works though. Scientists have found that someone suffering with asthma is more likely to have hayfever (despite whether their parents suffer or not), and the same goes for those with eczema. They have also found a link between hayfever and being exposed to tobacco smoke at an early age.
‘Pollen’ is a catchall term that describes the main cause of hayfever, but there are around 30 different varieties of pollen in this country, and not all hayfever sufferers are allergic to the same ones (which can make treatment tricky). The main culprit is grass pollen, which is what around 90% of those with hayfever have a problem with. Weed pollen (from dock and nettles), however, is another offender, as is tree pollen (the worst trees for releasing allergens are oak, ash, cedar, and birch).
If you suffer from hayfever from late March to May, tree pollen is probably the cause. May to July is most likely grass pollen, and June to September is weed pollen. Of course, you may be allergic to more than one type of pollen, and since the seasons overlap, it is difficult to tell!
Antihistamines are great at tackling hayfever, but if you want to reduce your symptoms before trying any kind of medical help, there are some top tips to help you do so.
1. A Healthy Diet
Eating well and incorporating fruit and vegetables into your diet can reduce the symptoms of hayfever, so they are much less severe. Stocking up on foods with anti-inflammatory properties is also a great idea. These include oily fish, nuts and seeds. It’s also worth noting that some fruits contain the pollen that many are allergic to, so try to avoid tomatoes, apples, bananas, and fruits with stones.
2. Get Enough Sleep
Studies carried out on who was most susceptible to hayfever symptoms showed that those who slept for over seven hours had milder symptoms than those who slept for five hours or less.
Doing two and a half hours of moderate exercise each week can result in milder hayfever. Don’t exercise outside when the pollen count is high; early mornings or evenings are best. It’s cooler then too, so you’ll be able to do more.
4. Drink Less
Getting enough fluids is essential in everyday life, but not if those fluids contain alcohol. Although it’s lovely to have a refreshing beer or glass of wine at a summer barbecue, those drinks contain histamines, which set your immune system’s alarm bells ringing. Alcoholic drinks also dehydrate you, making your hayfever symptoms much worse than usual.