How health experts treat their own hay fever

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Hay fever comes for the best of us. As one of the most common allergies in the UK (affecting 10 to 30 per cent of the adult population) it can pop up at any age, any time, and to anyone.

Part of the problem is that the hay fever season is getting longer and longer. Gareth Nye, senior lecturer in anatomy and physiology at University of Chester tells i “recent increases in temperature and climate change have lengthened the hayfever season for many people. Symptoms are starting earlier and lasting longer.” As a consequence, “nearly half the adult population will suffer from hayfever”

With pollen counts hitting highs across the UK this week, we thought it best to speak to people who have the expertise – and the personal experience – to guide fellow hay fever sufferers through the deluge.

Here are three health experts’ top personal tips, and things they avoid.

“Put petroleum jelly around your nostrils”

Dr Babak Ashrafi relies on weather apps to avoid outside spaces during periods of high pollen

Dr Babak Ashrafi, GP and part of the Superdrug Online Doctor team

“I recommend, and use, a mix of treatments for hay fever: non-drowsy antihistamines and nasal corticosteroids are a great way to help ease symptoms like sneezing, itching, and congestion.

These products target different aspects of allergic reactions, such as reducing histamine response, alleviating nasal inflammation, and clearing allergens from nasal passages.

Alongside these types of medications, using an air purifier indoors and keeping windows shut during high pollen times is a must; you can track this easily through the weather app on your phone.

On busy days, managing hay fever can be challenging, causing headaches, discomfort, and fatigue. I suggest applying a small amount of petroleum jelly around the nostrils to trap pollen and prevent it from being inhaled while you’re on the go, and as mentioned, ensure you are wearing sunglasses and a hat.

Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of water helps thin mucus, and keeping medications like antihistamines and a nasal spray handy allows for quick relief when symptoms flare up unexpectedly without causing drowsiness.

To minimise hay fever symptoms, I avoid outdoor activities during peak pollen times, especially early in the morning. Swap your run or walk for indoor activities such as swimming, which is also a great way to relieve irritation. I would also suggest avoiding perfumes, scented lotions, and strong cleaning products that can irritate nasal passages and potentially exacerbate allergy symptoms. Steer clear of air fresheners and strongly scented candles, as these can also trigger allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.”

“Always wash your hair before bed”

Don’t buy branded medication when own brand can be just as effective, says Dr Gareth Nye

Dr Gareth Nye, senior lecturer in anatomy and physiology at the University of Chester

I’ve found the best way to alleviate the hay fever symptoms include finding ways to clear your nose by drinking plenty of fluids to keep any excess mucus thin and runny and using saline sprays can clear allergens from the nasal cavity; removing or reducing pollen exposure by putting something like vaseline around your nostrils to trap the pollen, and both showering and changing clothes to stop local pollen collections on your person; and altering the position of your head and neck to prevent coughing at night time.

In the workplace or at home it’s important to make a clear space to hang coats and jackets away from the main working/living area to prevent the carry through of pollen particles. Ensure your rooms are ventilated generally but keep windows closed during peak pollen times like early morning. Where possible, I also remove high pollen producing indoor plants and move seating away from open windows.

A key tip is to look closely at the branded hay fever medications – very often the active ingredient like cetirizine or loratidine is the same, at the same concentration in expensive and cheap versions. You get no extra benefit from the higher price really.

And I always wash my hair and face before I go to sleep on high pollen days. If you don’t, you are rubbing pollen onto the pillows and bedding and breathing it in all night so you wake up even worse!

“I’ve found combined nasal steroid sprays revolutionary”

Dr Helen Evan-Howells strongly recommends against the injectable kind of steroids
Copyright: Helen Strong Photography

Dr Helen Evan-Howells, GP and allergy specialist

For the vast majority of hayfever sufferers, symptoms can be relatively mild with just occasional sneezing and itchy eyes. Regular once-daily antihistamines which can be bought over-the-counter will control their symptoms.

However, for a smaller proportion of people, myself included, hayfever can have a significant impact on someone’s quality of life – causing nasal congestion, fatigue, rashes, facial swelling, asthma and eczema flare ups and time off school or work. Nasal steroid sprays would then tend to be the best next step.

Generally I recommend sprays which contain the active ingredient Fluticasone or Mometasone as these have a lower absorption of steroid making them safer for long-term use and more effective. It is always important that someone checks how to use a nasal spray to ensure they are not sniffing the nasal spray, swallowing it and therefore rendering it pointless.

Eye drops can also be a useful addition but, again, these can take two to three weeks to have a maximal effect. At the beginning these can sting, but this often settles in time. There are many different types of eye drops available which can be purchased from your pharmacy. My go-to is Olopatadine, which is available on prescription.

For those with more significant symptoms I generally would recommend a combined nasal steroid spray which is licensed from the age of 12. These sprays contain both antihistamine and steroids and personally, I have found this revolutionary in the treatment of my hay fever. They have an immediate benefit because of the antihistamine component but also work to improve things further over the next few weeks. These could be combined with a regular antihistamine.

We never recommend an injection of steroids as these carry a high risk of both short and long-term complications which includes diabetes, osteoporosis and eye complications to name a few. If someone is on regular nasal sprays and antihistamines and still having troublesome symptoms, then the next step would be a referral to an allergy specialist to consider immunotherapy.

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