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Allergies and Hayfever

Published on May 21, 2019

Allergies and Hayfever

What is an allergy?

Allergies are caused by an overreaction of the immune system to a particular substance, known as an allergen. The most common allergens include pollen, mould, dust mites, pet dander, latex and insect venom.

What is allergic rhinitis?

Allergic rhinitis is a condition in which allergies have caused an inflammation of the lining of the nose. Although the symptoms resemble those of the common cold, they are not caused by a viral infection (as the common cold is). Allergic rhinitis may be seasonal or perennial (year-round).  The severity of allergic rhinitis is defined as mild or moderate/severe.

What is seasonal (intermittent) allergic rhinitis?

Seasonal allergic rhinitis, or hayfever, is caused by an allergy to pollens from grasses, flowers, weeds or trees. It causes sudden, frequent attacks of sneezing, nasal discharge and congestion. These episodes may also be accompanied by eye symptoms, such as stinging, watering eyes and conjunctivitis. 

While it typically develops in childhood, it is not unusual to develop hayfever as an adult. In fact, the average age to develop seasonal allergic rhinitis is 15 years1.

What is perennial (persistent) allergic rhinitis?

Perennial allergic rhinitis is a hypersensitivity reaction to allergens in house dust, animal dander or fungal spores.

What are the symptoms of an allergy?

1. Cold-like symptoms (sneezing and a runny nose)

Sneezing and a runny nose can often be the first sign of both a common cold and an allergy attack. Unlike the common cold and influenza, allergies are not caused by a viral infection. A mild cold may only last for a few days, whereas a more severe infection can cause symptoms for up to two weeks. If symptoms persist for longer than this time period, they may be caused by an allergy or you may need to see your doctor.

Both allergies and the common cold can be distinguished from more serious viral infections, such as influenza, by a lack of high-grade fever, significant fatigue and coloured mucous, cold or flu.

2. Recurring irritation

The timing of symptoms may also help determine their cause. Unlike a viral infection, an allergy will cause symptoms that are persistent or that recur in certain situations. For example, hayfever will occur in the spring, summer or autumn, when the responsible plant releases its pollen into the air.

What are the symptoms of hayfever?

Hayfever symptoms are due to airborne pollens and allergens making their way into your respiratory system, nose or eyes and triggering a reaction that can inflame the area and cause hayfever symptoms.

There are several symptoms that might indicate you are suffering from a hayfever allergy. These include:

  1. Sneezing, runny nose or nasal congestion
  2. Itchy, red or watery eyes
  3. Itchy throat or palate
  4. Itchy skin
  5. Itchy rash and localized swellings, known as hives

What is pollen?

Pollen is a very fine powder produced by plants, which is used to fertilise other plants from the same species. Flowering plants such as wattle produce small amounts of pollen that are distributed by birds or bees from one plant to another. Other plants including pasture grasses and weeds rely on the wind to disperse their pollen. These types of plants can cause pollen allergies (also known as Hayfever or Allergic Rhinitis) in people.

How is a pollen allergy diagnosed?

A healthcare professional will take a thorough medical history, physical exam and review your symptoms to diagnose your condition. In addition, there are skin allergy tests which can be taken to diagnose which allergen is causing your symptoms.

How can I manage spring pollen allergies?

To reduce pollen exposure and the symptoms of hayfever:

  • Check the pollen forecast online or in the newspaper and try to stay indoors if pollen counts are high.
  • Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from pollen.
  • Avoid mowing the grass and stay inside when it is being mown.
  • Choose plants for your garden that are pollinated by insects or birds, rather than plants that release their pollen into the air.
  • Regularly splash your eyes with cold water to flush out any pollen.
  • Smear Vaseline or something similar inside your nose to protect them from contact with pollen.
  • Keep windows closed at home and in the car and use re‐circulated air conditioning.
  • Take allergy medications such as an antihistamine to control sneezing, itchy eyes and other frustrating symptoms of hayfever.

How do I treat hayfever?

Telfast is a non-drowsy antihistamine that works to reduce the symptoms and suffering of hayfever allergies. For those with persistent or severe hayfever, your pharmacist or general practitioner may recommend you a nasal steroid spray, in addition to an antihistamine treatment. Nasal steroid sprays will reduce inflammation in the nasal passage to help relieve symptoms.

If your symptoms are not being relieved by your current treatment, talk to your doctor or pharmacist for other options that may better suit your needs.

Always read the label. Follow the directions for use. If symptoms persist, talk to your health professional.

How can I treat hayfever when pregnant?

Consult your GP or pharmacist about appropriate hayfever medication for your individual circumstances. Telfast should not be taken while pregnant unless specified by a GP or pharmacist.

Do children get allergies?

Hayfever is a common condition that often develops in childhood. Allergies to indoor allergens (e.g. dust mites) can occur by the age of two, while allergies to outdoor allergens (e.g. grass pollen), can occur by the ages of three to five1.

Do lifestyle factors affect allergies?

Research shows that certain lifestyle factors, including diet, physical activity, alcohol consumption, stress and quality of sleep can in fact influence the prevalence, incidence and severity of hayfever symptoms. So, while avoiding allergy triggers is important for managing symptoms, lifestyle choices may also play a part.

  • Diet – A healthy diet is believed to influence hayfever by providing the body with essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that are otherwise deficient in a diet dependent on processed foods. Try to consume a varied and balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Physical activity – Research of people with hayfever found that those who exercised the most, more than five half hour sessions each week, experienced milder hayfever symptoms.
  • Alcohol consumption – A 2003 study found that consuming more than 14 units of alcohol per week was associated with an increased prevalence of pollen sensitisation. Researchers also found that alcohol can trigger sneezing and other nasal symptoms, especially in women. As well as making sufferers more sensitive to pollen, alcohol is dehydrating which can make symptoms seem worse.
  • Sleep – People with hayfever who get a good night’s sleep with an average of seven hours tend to have the mildest symptoms. Therefore, try to avoid too many late nights during hayfever season.
  • Stress – High levels of stress due to factors such as job pressures influence the action of cortisol, a hormone which affects the immune system, enhancing and prolonging symptoms of hayfever. To help manage stress and therefore your hayfever, include relaxation techniques like yoga, meditation, deep breathing and exercise.

References

1 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2011. Allergic rhinitis (‘hay fever’) in Australia. Cat. No. ACM 23. Canberra: AIHW.

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