Allergies are caused by a malfunction of the immune system which sees foreign objects which are otherwise harmless as being harmful. It is possible to be allergic to foods such as nuts, latex, bee and wasp stings and pollen from trees and grasses amongst other things.
Having an allergy can have a significant impact on your daily life and performance at school or work. It is therefore of great importance to find the correct treatment options that gain control of your symptoms.
Recognizing hay fever
Hay fever is a common problem in the UK. Symptoms are similar to that of a cold and include sneezing, itchy eyes, a blocked or runny nose, headaches, poor concentration and a general feeling of being unwell. The grass pollen season in the UK generally occurs from April to the September and symptoms occur in this time period.
The first step of hay fever treatment is avoidance. Although it is not possible to completely avoid grass pollen the following tips may help to limit your exposure:
Monitor pollen forecasts daily so that you can prepare for high pollen days.
Applying a thin layer of petroleum jelly around the edge of each nostril to trap or block pollens to prevent a reaction.
Wear wraparound sunglasses when outdoors to keep pollen allergens out of your eyes.
On high pollen days, shower and wash your hair to remove the trapped pollen after arriving home and change your clothing.
Keep windows closed when indoors, particularly in the morning when pollen is being released, and in the evening when the air cools and airborne pollens falls to the ground.
Avoid drying laundry outdoors when pollen counts are high.
If avoidance of pollen does not provide enough symptom relief you will need to take medications. Whenever your body experiences an allergic reaction, it releases a substance called histamine. Histamine is the main cause of allergic symptoms and a group of medications called “anti-histamines” block the release of histamine that cause symptoms. Anti-histamines are a common treatment for hay fever available in tablet or liquid form. Be sure that the antihistamine you are taking is non-sedating as this may affect your concentration and ability to drive.
Corticosteroids (commonly known as steroids) reduce inflammation. They can be prescribed for the treatment of hay fever and are available in tablets, injections and nasal sprays. Steroid tablets should only be taken for short periods of time to obtain fast symptom control for important occasions such as exams or a wedding. If you are prescribed a nasal spray then ask your pharmacist to demonstrate the correct use of your nasal spray. Steroid injections (also known as Kenalog injections) were previously given by GP’s for the treatment of severe hay fever but these are no longer recommended due to the risk of long term side effects.
Nasal decongestants are a type of medicine that provide short term medicine relief for a blocked or stuffy nose. They work by reducing the swelling of the blood vessels in your nose. These are available as drops or as a nasal spray and should only be used for a short period of time.
Taking medications together
It is possible that you will have to use multiple medications together to tackle different symptoms. For example, you can use treatments for a runny nose and use other medication to reduce itchiness in the eyes. Some symptom suppressing medications are available without prescription at your local pharmacy. Other medications are only available through a prescription from a doctor. Always consult a doctor or pharmacist before using any medications.
Allergen Immunotherapy for the treatment of severe hay fever
Immunotherapy in the UK is provided for people that have severe hay fever despite taking prescribed medications or have been previously been given steroid injections.
Immunotherapy essentially works by exposing the immune system to small amounts of the substance the body thinks is harmful. Doing this on a regular basis stimulates the immune system to increase its familiarity and resistance against the allergen.
Immunotherapy is available as tablets or injections, the treatment course lasts for 3 years as it takes that period of time to retrain the immune system not to react to the allergen. Unlike anti-histamines and nasal sprays studies have shown the benefits of immunotherapy persist after finishing treatment.
In order to be considered for Immunotherapy your GP will need to refer you to an allergy clinic at a NHS hospitals which have an allergy service or to a private hospital.