Can adults suddenly develop hayfever?
So you seem to have developed all the symptoms of hayfever – the runny nose, itchy eyes and scratchy throat – but you don’t have hayfever, so surely it must be something else? A summer cold perhaps, or maybe just working too hard and feeling a bit run down?
Well the truth is, if all the symptoms point to hayfever then it’s likely that this is the problem, even if you’ve never suffered from hayfever symptoms before! Sometimes people can be genetically predisposed to developing hayfever, but the allergy might just not have been triggered yet. If you suffer from other allergies or problems like asthma and eczema, then you may be susceptible to hayfever too.
So what kind of things can trigger hayfever?
External factors that can cause adults to develop hayfever
It seems that every year the newspapers claim that this is the worst ever year for hayfever – and there is actually some truth in the scaremongering! As problems like pollution and climate change worsen, hayfever is actually becoming more problematic.
Pollen tends to cling to particles of pollution, and since pollutants are generally much heavier than pollen, this causes the pollen to hang around for longer, and begin to accumulate. Without pollution, this pollen would be quickly blown away by fresh air. The result is that pollen counts in cities are climbing higher and higher, and at some point they may simply reach a level that your body cannot tolerate anymore.
Pollution can also weaken the immune system, making it sensitive even to lower pollen counts.
As the world grows warmer (though at times it doesn’t feel like it!), traditional pollination seasons can be affected in a number of ways. Some plants may release the majority of their pollen in a shorter time, resulting in suddenly spiking pollen counts. Others may start pollinating earlier, while some pollinate later, resulting in a longer overall hayfever season. This all puts extra pressure on the immune system.
Foreign plants and animals are often introduced to the UK – whether by accident or on purpose – and they can sometimes cause problems when they get here. Perhaps the most infamous is the grey squirrel, introduced to the UK from America in the 1800s and thought to be the cause of declining red squirrel populations.
For hayfever sufferers, one particularly problematic plant is Ragweed. This plant is native to North America and is infamous for causing hayfever symptoms over there. A single ragweed plant can produce up to a billion grains of pollen each season and just 1-3 grains of ragweed pollen per m3 of air can trigger symptoms, compared to the 50 grains of grass pollen or 80 grains of birch pollen it usually takes to trigger symptoms1.
It may be that you aren’t sensitive to the plants normally found the UK, but if Ragweed has made its way to your local area, you could be having an allergic reaction to that.
Diet and lifestyle factors that can trigger hayfever
Hayfever is closely linked to the health of your immune system, since allergies are essentially just huge overreactions of the immune system. One thing that we know has a huge impact on your immune system is diet and lifestyle, so if you’ve made some big changes to these over the past year then this could explain your symptoms.
Moving to a new city
We know that pollution can trigger worse hayfever symptoms, so if you’ve recently moved to a new city – particularly a bigger one – then it may be that the pollution and higher pollen counts here are triggering symptoms for the first time.
If your diet has changed, this might be contributing to your newly found hayfever symptoms. Diets high in inflammatory foods like meat, dairy, alcohol, caffeine and sugar can make you vulnerable to problems like hayfever. These foods often contain histamine or trigger a histamine release in the body, the same chemical released during an allergic reaction. Read more about diet and hayfever here.
Maybe you’ve started a new job, maybe you’ve entered dissertation year at university, or maybe juggling work, children and a social life is slowly taking its toll! Stress slowly weakens the immune system which makes it easier for hayfever to develop. Stress can also affect digestion, which can hinder your absorption of hayfever-fighting nutrients.
Moving away from home
Some people find that hayfever develops in the first year that they move away from home. So why is this? Well, particularly when younger people move out, their diets can often get dramatically less healthy as they are left to fend for themselves. Alcohol consumption can increase too, especially when heading to university. The change in lifestyle, accompanied by the pressure of studies, a new job and paying bills, can also contribute to stress. All of this puts you in the perfect position to develop hayfever.
How can I get rid of hayfever?
If you can identify what triggered the development of hayfever, then you might be able to prevent your symptoms next year by fixing this trigger. Focusing on diet and lifestyle is probably your best option, as there isn’t much you can do about pollution or climate change in the short term!
Pack your diet full of fresh fruit and veggies, cut back on inflammatory foods like meat, dairy, sugar and alcohol, and eat lots of wholesome, complex carbohydrates instead, such as brown rice, brown pasta and wholegrain cereals. If you’re cutting back on meat, make sure to get your protein from elsewhere – nuts, seeds and pulses like chickpeas, kidney beans and lentils are good places to start, but remember that you’ll find protein in most of your complex carbohydrates too.
De-stressing is so important, and the best way to tackle this is at the root cause. Buy a planner or diary to get yourself organised, sit down for an evening to arrange a financial budget, and create to-do lists and planners at work so you know when all your deadlines are. If young children are causing you stress, don’t be afraid to ask for help from friends and family – even an hour or two here and there can help give you some time to relax or get organised. Make sure to get some exercise into your day, and pick up some new hobbies so you aren’t thinking about work all the time.
If you need help managing stress, you can try a stress remedy such as AvenaCalm, or the slightly stronger Stress Relief Daytime.
If your hayfever symptoms are stubborn, then try Pollinosan, our hayfever tablets. These contain a complex of hayfever-fighting herbs and don’t have the same side-effects you often find with conventional hayfever treatments.
1) Ragweed pollen: is climate change creating a new aeroallergen problem in the UK? 17 June 2015