There is about a 25 per cent chance you suffer from allergic rhinitis. If you do, the chances are your body is currently producing a surplus of antibody immunoglobulin E. This IgE will be busy binding to your mast cells, tricking your body into releasing the inflammatory mediator histamine. In short, you suffer from hay fever – welcome to the pollen season.
Hay fever has become shorthand for a variety of allergies, which include types of pollen, dust and pollution. Its symptoms range from mild irritation of the eyes and nasal cavity to hives, extreme drowsiness and lack of concentration.
There are an estimated 15m sufferers in the UK and this is expected to double by 2030 as summers warm up and a higher percentage of people live in built-up areas with more pollution. But understanding the science behind it will give you scant consolation when the inevitable itching starts. Here is our guide to beating the scourge of the summer.
TAKE YOUR MEDS
Anti-histamines, which prevent histamines from bonding to their receptors, should be at the top of your shopping list (£2.85 for seven tablets, boots.com). Nasal sprays can reduce the amount of pollen that enters the body (Flixonase, £6.99, various stores). Eye-drops can help to prevent itchiness (Otrivine, £4.39, various stores).
PLAN YOUR HOLIDAY CAREFULLY
Different regions experience differing durations and intensities of pollen, so planning ahead can help to ease your suffering. Dry places tend to have less grass and therefore lower pollen counts. If you feel the effects badly you should probably rule out hotspots like the south of France and the French Riviera, Florence, Naples, Rome and Athens. Low-count areas include the Greek islands, the Canary Islands and North Africa.
INDULGE IN A HAIR OF THE DOG
Evidence over the use of honey to treat hay fever is anecdotal but some people swear by it. The theory is that by exposing your body to small levels of pollen it can build up a resistance to airborne pollen – and even if it doesn’t work, you have a tasty, healthy snack.
Hay fever symptoms have been shown to be worse in people with high stress levels. This is because the body produces cortisone when under stress, which heightens your immune response to the allergen. Getting a good night’s sleep, eating well and cutting down on alcohol can all help.
GET YOUR HOUSE IN ORDER
Air conditioning and air purifiers can help to reduce the pollen count.