Hayfever Season

Family Health Diary

Hayfever – what is it?
The medical name for hayfever is ‘allergic rhinoconjunctivitis’. So, it’s not a fever and it’s not an infection.

Hayfever is caused by your body having an allergic reaction to something in the air usually causing itchy, running eyes and, or nose. ‘itis’ in a medical name always means ‘inflammation’ so, allergic rhinoconjunctivitis actually means inflammation of the nose and eyes.

Every year someone tells me that this is the worst year ever for their hayfever. If you feel like this you are not alone. People often complain that the medicine they have used successfully in the past is no longer working for them.  This is another sign that your hayfever is worse this year than last.

Recent research has shown that New Zealand has high and increasing levels of hayfever. So you are not imagining it if you think your hayfever seems to get worse each year. Climate change is making hayfever worse for many people. The timing for a plant to send out pollen is very sensitive to the weather and any climate changes. Of course high winds will also send pollen a lot further.


What causes hayfever?
Hayfever is often caused by pollens that are present in spring and yet some people have hayfever nearly all year round. We are all different and what sets off one person’s hayfever might not be what sets off yours. The allergic response can also be set off by dust mites or animal fur, moulds, fungi, cigarette smoke or perfume which might be present at any time of year. They thing that sets off an allergy response in your body is called an ‘allergen.’

Your allergies might be set off by one sort of pollen and your friend’s might be triggered by a completely different plant and so theirs might occur on different days or different times of year. Some of our natives trees flower in autumn or winter. This means that if your allergy is to one or more of those plants, then you might get hayfever in Autumn or Winter while your friends only get hayfever in Spring.


How do I best manage and treat hayfever?
Whatever sets off your hayfever, the cause of the symptoms is the way pollen or other allergen interacts in our body to release histamine. It is the histamine release that produces the hayfever symptoms. This is why we use anti-histamine medicines to prevent or reduce our symptoms.

The most common question people ask their pharmacist about hayfever is “which is the best treatment?” Of course like most medicines it is very individual and what suits one person might not suit another. You are best to discuss your specific symptoms with your pharmacist.

If your symptoms are mainly a runny nose and sneezing, then you might only need a nasal spray. If your symptoms are mainly in the eyes, there are a variety of eyes drop preparations that might suits; some are preventative and others are more for once you get the symptoms. Depending on the severity of your symptoms you might need to take tablets as well as use a nasal spray and eye drops.

While there are quite a range of different antihistamines, there are also many that are just different brands of the same antihistamine. They might have different brand names, but the active ingredient in some is identical. Do talk to the pharmacy staff as they will know which are different medicines, and which are just different brands of the same thing. You might find one brand is better for you than another, but do ensure you understand the ingredient name and not just the brand name. Some antihistamines can cause drowsiness. Antihistamines that are known to cause drowsiness are often only available after a consultation with a pharmacist. Some that are on the shelf in the shop can still cause drowsiness in some people.

With any medicine make sure you know how it affects you before considering driving or working while you are on that medicine.


Talk to your pharmacist to find the treatment best for you
Talk to your pharmacist if you can’t find something that works for you. You might need help choosing the appropriate combination of products for you. The pharmacist may suggest taking something before you become exposed to the allergen that causes your hayfever. This might be possible if you know what causes your hayfever or if it occurs at the same time each year. There are also new antihistamine medicines from time to time so it is worth trying a new antihistamine to see if it works better for you. If you find a tablet that really works for you, it is possible that you might no longer need eye drops as well as tablets for instance.


Hayfever & asthma
For most of us hayfever is annoying but if it affects your asthma it can be serious. If allergies set off your asthma please talk to your doctor. There are a range of prescription medicines that might reduce or prevent your asthma getting worse with your hayfever. Your doctor may also suggest some sort of steroid inhaler or tablets that will reduce the inflammation in your lungs that can be caused by allergens.



Written by Linda Caddick for Family Health Diary

This blog provides general information and discussion about medicine, health and related subjects. The information contained in the blog and in any linked mate­ri­als, are not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.

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