We’re tracking mentions of hay fever throughout of the UK in real time, to see which areas are most affected. Why not view our map to see where in the UK and Ireland people are tweeting about hay fever today.
What causes hay fever?
Hay fever is caused when pollen released by trees, grass, weeds and fungal spores triggers an allergic response from the immune system.
If you have hay fever, your body makes antibodies (IgE) when exposed to pollen and releases chemicals, including histamine, that can cause sneezing, runny nose and watery itchy eyes. Other symptoms include allergic rhinitis, blocked-up nose and headache.
According to a recent report authored by Dr Jean Emberlin, scientific director at charity Allergy UK, one in four hay fever patients has a tree pollen allergy. Birch pollen is the UK’s most allergenic type of tree pollen.
‘The birch tree pollen season started in late March in England – four weeks earlier than last year,’ says Dr Emberlin.
‘The time is still about average – last year’s cold wet spring meant the hay fever season started much later. This year, because the weather has been warm and dry with some wind, the season started earlier and we have had some very high pollen counts.’
Pollutants in the air have also been hanging round which can exacerbate hay fever symptoms.
‘This happens because exposure to pollutants affects the permeability of membranes of the respiratory tract and slows down mucous clearance, and so more pollen allergen crosses over and causes a reaction,’ explains Dr Emberlin.
Is hay fever on the increase?
Yes. According to the report authored by Dr Emberlin there are now an estimated 15 million hay fever sufferers in the UK ‒ one of the highest incidences in the world ‒ and incidence amongst teenagers is 37 per cent. The UK figure is also estimated to more than double by 2030 and increase by a third to 20 million by 2015.
Also, global warming is set to extend growing seasons for plants producing pollen.
‘The predicted climate changes forecast – with increases in the annual mean temperature of around 2 to 5 degrees centigrade by 2080 ‒ will lead to a longer growing season that will affect pollen seasons in terms of their timing, length and severity,’ explains Dr Emberlin.
Your doctor or pharmacist can advise on the most suitable medication for combating hay fever. These include:
- Antihistamine drugs: These stop the release of histamine and are suitable for most hay fever sufferers, but not pregnant women. They’re available as tablets, sprays or eye drops. Children may take non-drowsy antihistamine syrups.
- Saline nasal washes: These flush out pollen from the nasal passages and can be used on babies.
- Nasal decongestant sprays: These reduce swelling of blood vessels in your nose, helping a blocked nose and easing breathing.
- Eye drops: These help dry, itchy eyes and contain antihistamines to stop the inflammation which causes redness.
- Corticosteroid nasal sprays and drops: These are usually prescribed for persistent symptoms, if your main symptom is a blocked nose or during pregnancy.
Dr Emberlin’s hay fever myth busters:
Does hay fever run in cycles? One myth is that hay fever comes in seven-year cycles.
‘There’s no truth in this whatsoever,’ confirms Dr Emberlin. ‘The timing and severity of your symptoms may vary from year to year depending on when the season starts and the weather in the season but that’s all.’
Can eating local honey cure hay fever?
‘There’s no evidence for this, bees tend to collect pollen from colourful ornamental flowers and make their honey from that – not the pollen from grass which is what the majority of hay fever sufferers struggle with.’
Tips for managing hay fever
Allergy UK recommends the following:
- Check the pollen forecast: Obviously you can’t avoid going out – but remember pollen levels are often highest early morning and evening, and lower at the seaside.
- Close windows: Keep pollen out of your home and car by shutting windows. Choose a car with a pollen filter.
- Wear wraparound sunglasses: Sunglasses can stop pollen irritating your eyes.
- Shower and change your clothes when you come indoors. Pollen can also be brought indoors from washing hanging outside and pets.
- Smear petroleum jelly inside your nostrils: This prevents some pollen entering the nose.
- Avoid indoor swimming pools: Chlorine in swimming pools can make symptoms worse, so avoid or wear goggles.
Do you suffer from hay fever? Why not check out the Twitter buzz about hay fever in your local area using our interactive hay fever map.