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How to get through the hay fever season

Many people use the terms ‘allergies’ and ‘hay fever’ interchangeably. However, allergies refer to a wide range of conditions where the body overreacts to a substance that may not cause reactions in other people. These substances are often referred to as allergens or ‘triggers’. Hay fever is one type of allergy.

What is hay fever?

Hay fever, is also known as allergic rhinitis — an allergy that affects the nose. Your nose acts like a filter as the tiny hairs in your nose trap dirt, dust and pollens. If you’re allergic to these substances, your body launches an ‘attack’ on these allergens, inflaming the nasal passages and producing more mucus, which are the characteristics of hay fever.

Hay fever affects more than 4.6 million Australians every year. It’s usually a seasonal condition and is often worse during spring and autumn. However, hay fever can occur at any time of the year.

Symptoms of hay fever

Signs and symptoms of hay fever usually begin soon after you’ve been exposed to the allergen. Symptoms and severity of hay fever are usually different for everyone, but usually include:

  • sneezing and runny nose
  • congested (‘stuffy’) nose
  • cough
  • teary, red or itchy eyes
  • itchy nose, roof of mouth or throat
  • sinus pressure or facial pan
  • postnasal drip
  • feeling that your ears are blocked
  • decreased sense of smell
  • fatigue and brain fogginess
  • asthma, which can be triggered by your symptoms.

Man with a face mask sneezing into his elbow

What triggers hay fever?

There are several allergens that can trigger hay fever symptoms. Common seasonal triggers include:

  • tree pollen, common in the spring
  • grass pollen, common in late spring and summer
  • spores from fungi and moulds, which can be worse during warmer months

Common triggers for year-round hay fever include:

  • animal dander (from the skin, hair or feathers of animals)
  • dust mites (contained in house dust)
  • cockroaches
  • spores from indoor and outdoor fungi and moulds.

 

How to get rid of hay fever

An important part of managing your hay fever symptoms is identifying what you are allergic to, and avoiding the trigger where possible. Sometimes it may be easy to identify your triggers. However, in some cases it may be necessary to obtain a referral to an allergy specialist who can run a number of tests to determine the exact triggers of your symptoms.

Medication for hay fever

 Most people can manage their hay fever symptoms by avoiding their triggers and using over-the-counter (OTC) medications to help. These include:

  • antihistamines — these block the effects of histamine, a chemical released in your body during an allergic reaction. They work best when taken before you experience symptoms and can also help control itching and sneezing. These are available as hay fever tablets or as liquid form.
  • decongestants — these help relieve congestion associated with hayfever symptoms.
  • corticosteroid nasal sprays — these help reduce inflammation in the nose which can help relieve symptoms. However, they usually need to be used regularly for maximum effect.
  • eye drops — while these don’t prevent allergy symptoms, they can help relieve swollen, itchy eyes.

In some cases, OTC medication may not be suitable or effective for treating hay fever. In this instance, your doctor may prescribe you other medication.

Natural remedies for hay fever

While taking over-the-counter (OTC) medication can bring some relief, you can also try the following natural remedies for hay fever:

  • smear petroleum jelly inside your nose to prevent pollen from touching the lining of your nose
  • use a humidifier to help reduce allergens in the air
  • rinse your nose out with a saline solution to remove allergens
  • rinse your eyes our regularly to flush out any pollen
  • use steam inhalation with eucalyptus oil to help unblock your nose.

What else can I do?

It may not always be possible to completely avoid your hay fever triggers, but you can take steps to reduce the likelihood of coming into contact with them. You can:

  • keep doors and windows closed during pollen season
  • avoid hanging washing outside as pollen can stick to clothes
  • avoid outdoor activity in the early morning when pollen counts are the highest
  • stay indoors on dry, windy days
  • take note of the pollen count each day and stay inside on days when it is high
  • wear a mask when gardening or mowing
  • use allergy-proof covers on mattresses, doonas and pillows
  • wash sheets in hot water
  • use a dehumidified or air-conditioner to reduce indoor humidity
  • vacuum carpets and rugs weekly, using a small-particle filter
  • dust regularly, using a mask
  • consider alternative floor coverings (i.e. floor boards, tiles, etc.) if you are highly sensitive to dust mites
  • keep pets outside the house or out of rooms where you spend a lot of time, where possible.

Remember, if symptoms persist or your hay fever worsens other conditions such as asthma, make sure your visit your doctor.

 

References:

Better Health Channel, Hay fever, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/hay-fever

Mayo Clinic, Hay fever, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hay-fever/DS00174

MyDr, Hay fever treatments, https://www.mydr.com.au/allergy/hay-fever-treatments/

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