Five myths about hay fever

The hay fever season is already well under way this year, with many people affected by symptoms such as sneezing, itchy or watery eyes and a runny, itchy or blocked nose.

One of the most common allergic conditions, hay fever affects an estimated 18 million people in the UK, says health charity Allergy UK. If you’re one of them, here are some of the most common myths you should be aware of:

MYTH #1: Hay fever always starts when you’re young

It’s true that the symptoms of hay fever usually start during childhood or when you’re a teenager. But you can get it at any age. Among adults, both sexes are equally affected. But in children and teenagers, boys are more likely to develop hay fever than girls. If other allergies such as asthma and eczema run in your family, your risk of developing hay fever is higher than average.

MYTH #2: Once you’ve got hay fever, it’s there for life

According to the NHS, hay fever symptoms improve in many people as they get older, and around half of people say their symptoms have improved to some extent or another after several years. And in 10 – 20 percent of cases, the symptoms disappear completely.

MYTH #3: Flowers are the main cause of hay fever

An allergy to pollen triggers those familiar hay fever symptoms. But pollen is produced by many plants, not just flowers. In fact, experts believe that flower pollen isn’t the main culprit since it’s relatively heavy and sticky, which means it often doesn’t become airborne (which is when it causes a problem).

Pollens produced by trees, grass and weeds are lighter, which means they’re more likely to linger in the air and make contact with your eyes, nose and mouth. The most common hay fever allergen, says the NHS, is grass pollen, which affects around 95 percent of people with hay fever.

MYTH #4: Hay fever only strikes during the spring and summer months

Grass pollen – the most common hay fever trigger – is indeed released during the spring and summer. But other types of pollen are released at different times of the year, and you may have an allergy to more than one of them. In fact if you’re unlucky enough to react to tree, grass and weed pollens, you could experience hay fever symptoms from early spring right through to late autumn.

MYTH #5: All antihistamines make you drowsy

This isn’t strictly true. Antihistamines are medicines that help relieve the symptoms of hay fever and other allergies. Older types of antihistamines – often called first-generation antihistamines – are more likely to cause drowsiness. These can be helpful in certain situations – for instance if you have allergy symptoms that stop you from having a good night’s sleep (itchy skin, for instance).

However newer antihistamines (second-generation and third-generation antihistamines) that come as one-a-day tablets are usually recommended for hay fever. These contain active ingredients that don’t cause drowsiness in most people.

There are several over-the-counter antihistamine products to choose from, and some may work better for you than others. Your Careway pharmacist can help you choose which antihistamines you should try, as well as give you advice on other hay fever treatments such as nasal sprays, decongestants and eye drops. If you have a child with hay fever, your pharmacist can also let you know which remedies are suitable for them.

Meanwhile there are several things you can do to help yourself by reducing your exposure to pollen. These include:

  • Staying indoors when the pollen count is high (keep windows and doors closed)
  • Taking a shower, washing your hair and changing your clothes after being outdoors
  • Wearing wraparound sunglasses when you’re outdoors (this helps stop pollen getting into your eyes)
  • Using a nasal barrier balm around your nostrils to trap pollen grains and stop them getting into your nasal cavities (ask your pharmacist to recommend a suitable product)
  • Keeping your car windows closed when you’re driving

For more advice on preventing and treating hay fever, speak to your local Careway pharmacist. Find your nearest pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.

Allergy Awareness Week runs from April 24 – 31, 2017.