Typical hayfever symptoms
If you have hayfever, the body will release histamine upon contact with pollen. This chemical can cause an array of symptoms, including itchy eyes and a sore throat.
It also prompts the mucous membranes to produce more mucus in order to trap and wash out allergens, meaning a runny nose develops. On top of this, the presence of histamine causes the body to increase blood flow to certain areas of the skin, promoting inflammation.
Is your hayfever really getting worse?
It seems like every year the newspapers are full of horror headlines about how this year's hayfever season will be the WORST EVER, and how hayfever sufferers are in for MONTHS OF MISERY. But is the hayfever season really getting worse?
Well, there could be some truth in these headlines, as various factors may exacerbate symptoms. This blog focuses on the impact of:
- Moving home
- Dietary changes
- Climate change
- Irritants in the home
- Pollen in your area
- New stresses
1. Moving homes
Moving homes, whether it's to find a place of your own or to flat-share with friends, can play a part in producing more severe hayfever symptoms. This may be linked to stress as this is known to make the condition worse. After all, at this time there can be a great deal of worry about moving things out/in, paying bills and even just adapting to new surroundings.
Another factor to consider is that you may be exposed to different allergens in your new home. There may be different varieties of pollen in the area, for example, or perhaps the previous owners had pets - animal dander lurking in carpets and curtains could worsen a bout of hayfever.
2. Dietary changes
Diet and lifestyle play a huge role in hayfever but both are often overlooked. So, it is worthwhile considering whether or not your diet has changed recently. Has a new job meant that you're too busy to cook fresh food? Has a new relationship resulted in a change in eating habits?
If your diet incorporates more meat, dairy, alcohol or sugar than usual then this is likely to be the cause of any new or more severe hayfever symptoms. These foods are all inflammatory, and many contain histamine that will worsen your allergic reaction. In addition, dairy is known to promote congestion.
Likewise, if you've been eating less fruit and veg this can have an impact too. Fruit and vegetables are fantastic for the immune system and they are often packed full of antioxidants that work a bit like natural versions of your antihistamine tablets.
3. Climate change
It's no secret that climate change has far-reaching consequences, and the warmer weather we may see can bring with it a more extreme hayfever season.
Warmer weather is the biggest trigger for pollination so, as climate change brings warmer and warmer weather to the UK, this could cause the hayfever season to begin earlier and finish later each year. So, even if the pollen count itself is not much higher, you may have to cope with hayfever symptoms for much longer, putting extra strain on the body.
4. Pollution – inside and out!
Typically, pollen floats into the higher atmosphere during the day as the weather warms up. It can then be easily blown away and dispersed once plants stop pollinating. However, pollen particles cling to heavier pollution particles, meaning that in highly polluted areas, pollen can linger in the air for longer than usual.
In addition, many of the chemicals that make up 'pollution' can be respiratory irritants, meaning that if your immune system is already struggling to cope with pollen, it may be extra sensitive to the pollution. If you've recently moved to a new city, it may be that the pollution levels are higher there, triggering more severe symptoms.
Although pollution levels in towns and cities have recently fallen due to strict lockdown measures1, pollutants can linger in the home; so, they still have the ability to impact your hayfever symptoms. In fact, indoor air levels of many pollutants may be 2-10 times higher than outdoor levels.2
5. Irritants in the home
There are lots of things in the home that have the potential to make hayfever symptoms worse. As social distancing measures mean we are spending more time at home than ever before, these things may be more likely to have an impact.
A few everyday irritants in the home include:
- Air fresheners (sprays as well as the automatic kind) - instead of using these, address the root cause of smells
- Hair products like setting spray and detangler - ventilate the area while products are being used and for a period afterwards
- Cleaning products – use natural alternatives that are free from harsh, irritating chemicals
- Cosmetics can contain chemicals that a sensitive immune system may react to – throw away old and out-of-date products and try natural brands where possible.
6. Pollen in your area
Pollen is released by plants as part of their reproductive process.
- Grass – mid-May to July
- Tree – mid-March to mid-May
- Weed – late June to October
The above gives an indication of what's causing your hayfever symptoms; however, factors such as warmer weather, and even a mild winter, can cause hayfever symptoms to come on earlier than usual.
Hayfever can get worse when temperatures increase because, as warm air rises, it takes pollen with it. As pollen circulates, it is easily breathed in by unsuspecting hayfever sufferers.
If you have new, worsening or more persistent hayfever symptoms, it is also possible that a new variety of pollen has made its way to your area. Ragweed, for example, is notorious for causing severe hayfever symptoms; so, perhaps this plant has appeared in your area for the first time, causing your hayfever symptoms to escalate.
7. New stresses
As I briefly mentioned already, stress is a huge trigger for hayfever. If your lifestyle has suddenly become more stressful, whether due to a new job, a newborn child or simply taking on too much at once, then this could be a cause of worsening or new hayfever symptoms.
Stress puts a lot of pressure on the body, and compromises several of your key functions, including both digestion and immune system. If your immune system is compromised then you won't be well equipped to deal with even mild allergens. If your digestion is weakened, then your ability to digest food and absorb nutrients will be compromised. So, even if your diet hasn't changed, the way your body makes use of the foods you're eating may have!
Who’s most at risk?
A few groups of people may, unfortunately, be more at risk of hayfever symptoms. This includes:
- Menopausal women with thinner, drier membranes lining the respiratory tract
- City dwellers who are exposed to more pollutants and irritants, as well as more aggressive pollen
- Those with a history of respiratory tract infections
- High histamine producers
What can you do about hayfever symptoms?
Unfortunately, there isn't much you can do about climate change and pollution, except perhaps moving somewhere with fresher air, like the seaside!
Other than this, the best thing you can do is focus on aspects of your diet and lifestyle.
I usually suggest Pollinosan Hayfever Tablets for anyone suffering from multiple hayfever symptoms. These are non-drowsy and can be taken alongside other hayfever medications.
Try to clean carpets, rugs and down the side of the sofa regularly, as allergens can cling to these areas. Make sure to wear protective gear whilst doing this (gloves and a mask if necessary), as cleaning can stir up allergens. Having a shower after cleaning will also help to get rid of any allergens.
Keep windows closed when pollen counts are high – a humidifier can help hydrate the air and make it less suitable for allergens.
Keep an eye on the pollen count using our five-day pollen forecast. This includes over 30,000 locations in the UK so simply type in your postcode and discover levels of tree, grass and weed pollen in your area!
For more tips on managing hayfever at home, check out this article on 'How to prepare you home for hayfever season'.
First of all, cut down your intake of inflammatory foods like meat, dairy, sugar and alcohol – especially during hayfever season, but all year round is best.
However, all is not lost! Research has shown that gin and other clear spirits are the best drinks for hayfever sufferers, as they contain the least histamine of all the alcohol types, and contain no sulphites, so are the least likely to irritate your symptoms. So, if you don't want to ditch alcohol all summer, you should still be able to enjoy a gin and tonic without too many problems.
As well as this, fill your diet with healthy, wholesome foods like brown rice, wholemeal bread, quinoa, nuts, seeds, fruit and vegetables. Focus in particular on fruits and vegetables that contain lots of vitamin C or quercetin – this includes blueberries, strawberries, citrus fruits and carrots. Garlic, onions and ginger are also great for hayfever!
If you're worried about cutting out meat and dairy, there are lots of easy replacements. Tofu, tempeh, seitan, bean burgers and falafel make good substitutes, while dairy-free milk and cream replacements are easy to find in most supermarkets. We would advise, however, staying clear of too many highly-processed replacements, such as soya burgers, fake chicken and vegan cheese.
If you are struggling to come up with easy-to-make and nutritious meals, then check out our fantastic recipes. Curries and stir fries are always good choices, as you can throw in almost any veg that you have lying around, as well as pulses like chickpeas and kidney beans, and even extras like walnuts or cashew nuts. Choosing brown rice or wholewheat noodles makes these dishes even more nutritious.
Try this tasty Three Bean Curry or this Tofu & Vegetable Satay to get you started. Soups are also a fantastic way to boost your veg intake, whilst a smoothie in the morning can give you a big boost in vitamins and antioxidants!
If necessary, your doctor or pharmacist can advise on medications to treat your hayfever symptoms. The most common medication is antihistamines, though decongestant sprays and other treatments can be explored.