The beginning of spring signals the start of flowers in bloom and warmer temperatures. But, for many, this also marks the start of allergy season.
Statistics show that one in four people in the UK currently suffers from springtime allergies. According to Allergy UK, 37% of people have reported developing symptoms for the first time in their lives during the past five years.
With figures on the rise, we look at what causes these allergies, their symptoms, and treatments that are available.
The most common type of springtime allergy is seasonal allergic rhinitis, usually referred to as hay fever. Hay fever is caused by pollen. Pollen is a light yellow coloured powdery substance found in grass, trees, and weeds and is needed to fertilise plants.
Pollen levels can vary throughout the year but tend to be at their highest during spring and early summer when plants and trees are in bloom. The most common types of pollen include birch, oak, and grass, which all peak between March and August. As pollen is very lightweight, it can be transported easily in the air by wind.
When pollen enters the body of someone allergic, the immune system believes pollen to be a danger and therefore attacks it through the release of antibodies. During this process, chemicals known as histamines are dispersed into the blood and trigger typical hay fever symptoms, including inflammation of the nose or airways.
In addition to pollen, spring can also be a time for increased mould in the home due to warmer temperatures, while undertaking a ‘spring clean’ can increase dust mites.
Although symptoms can vary, the most common are:
Most people usually diagnose themselves if symptoms follow a predictable pattern. However, if symptoms are unpredictable or more severe, you may need to have an allergy test to find your specific triggers.
Allergy tests are quick and mostly pain-free; they involve either skin or blood tests. Once you have your results, your doctor can determine the best course of treatment.
There are various treatments available to help reduce your symptoms. However, it is recommended you consult with your doctor in the first instance, as they will recommend the most suitable course of treatment for you and discuss any potential side effects.
Over the counter medication Antihistamines work by lowering the histamine levels in your body to reduce your symptoms. However, some brands cause drowsiness, so checking this with your doctor or pharmacist is always best. For those who suffer from nasal congestion, an oral or nasal spray decongestant may help reduce swelling and improve breathing.
Eye drops can also provide temporary relief from sore and itchy eyes.
Prescription medication Doctors may prescribe steroid nasal sprays for severe sufferers, while others may need an allergy injection or an under-the-tongue tablet to desensitise the body’s immune response and therefore reduce symptoms.
Practical ways to reduce your risk of springtime allergies:
If you experience allergies and want to determine your triggers, we can help. Ramsay Health Care offers allergy tests to diagnose specific allergens, and our specialist team will work with you to create a treatment and prevention plan tailored to you.