Sniffling Our Way Through Spring and Summer
Traditionally, hay fever (known medically as allergic rhinitis) is said to begin in Australia about this time – spring coming on to summer. But the reality is hay fever in this country is frequently a year-round problem. Of course, depending on the trigger factors and the weather conditions, the symptoms can become especially bad right about now.
The good news is that hay fever can usually be very well managed with medicines now available without prescription. However, you’ll need to describe the most troublesome symptoms to your pharmacist to ensure you get the most effective product.
The symptoms of hay fever develop as the result of a super active immune system. That is: substances which in most people would cause no reaction, actually cause a severe allergic reaction in the really sensitive ones amongst us. These substances, generally called allergens (or trigger factors), include wind borne pollen from grasses, weeds and trees – more likely to be a factor around this time of year.
Another common trigger factor is exposure to dust mite – these microscopic animals live with us in their millions in our pillows, blankets, bedspreads, doonas, cushions, curtains and carpets. Rather hard to avoid! And perhaps not such a pleasant thing to think about, but it’s probably no surprise so many of us get sneezy and wheezy when we breathe in the little creatures - dead or alive - or even their droppings.
Similar year-round symptoms can be caused by animal dander – the dead skin cells from our pets, especially cats. Mould and mould spores can cause the same sort of problems.
Most people inherit the tendency to be a hay fever sufferer. If one parent has allergic rhinitis you have a 50% chance of having it also. If both parents are sufferers your risk increases to 75%. And it’s not just hay fever. Chances are you will also have asthma, eczema and food allergies. Our immune system goes into overdrive.
Exposure to cigarette smoke – your own or someone else’s – may increase sensitivity to allergies; and occupational exposure may lead to a greater likelihood of developing hay fever. For instance, if you work with wood dust, seed dust, textile dust, rubber latex, some chemicals and certain foods and spices, you may also have to work with hay fever.
Of course avoiding trigger factors altogether is the best option. Clearly that’s not always possible.
When medication is required, the one recommended will depend largely on the severity and frequency of symptoms. Mild symptoms occurring less than four days a week or less than four weeks at a time respond well to the new oral antihistamines.
If symptoms adversely affect sleep or work, school or leisure activities; or the symptoms persist for more than four days a week or more than four weeks at a time, then the so-called intranasal corticosteroid sprays (Beconase, Rhinocort or Telnase) will be the most appropriate treatment. And particularly if nasal congestion is a problem, these nasal sprays are the treatment of choice, however, a few days treatment may be necessary before the full benefit is realised. And when symptoms are severe a combination of antihistamine and nasal spray might be required.
If extremely itchy eyes are a major concern the anti-allergy eye drops (Eyezep, Livostin or Zaditen) should be considered; and maybe Azep or Atrovent spray when the nose resembles a constantly dripping tap.
For more detailed advice about how to avoid, or when necessary treat, those springtime sniffles and sneezes, speak to one of our friendly pharmacists in-store.