Last years pollen season was the most severe for more than a decade and the weather was to blame, but could new research offer hope to the 18 million hay fever sufferers in the UK?
WHAT CAUSES HAY FEVER?
It is caused when the body makes allergic antibodies to certain substances, such as pollen, house dust mites or mould, which are known as allergens.
Grass pollen is the most common allergen (May to July), but tree (February to June) and weed (June to September) pollen can also cause the allergic reaction we know as hay fever. In perennial allergic rhinitis the symptoms continue all year round and usually relate to indoor allergens, such as house dust mites, pets, including birds, or moulds.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
- Itchy eyes/ throat
- Sneezing, blocked/runny nose
- Watering, red eyes (allergic conjunctivitis)
- Headaches, blocked sinuses
- Shortness of breath
- Asthma attacks
- The sensation of mucus running down the back of the throat, which can also be a symptom, is called ‘post-nasal drip’
These symptoms may become more severe when the pollen count is high.
HOW DO I MANAGE HAY FEVER?
These unpleasant and sometimes debilitating symptoms can be relieved by avoidance of the allergic triggers and the use of antihistamines:
- Monitor pollen forecasts daily and stay indoors wherever possible when the count is high (generally on warmer, dry days). Rain washes pollen from the air so counts should be lower on cooler, wet days.
- On high pollen days, shower and wash your hair after arriving home and change your clothing.
- Avoid drying washing on a clothes-line outside when pollen counts are high
"every summer, each practitioner in the UK will treat at least two or three hay fever sufferers, the symptoms can be helped quite substantially".
HOW ACUPUNCTURE MAY HELP
Acupuncture may help to relieve pain and congestion in people with allergic rhinitis and has been used in China and other eastern cultures to restore vitality and alleviate the symptoms of allergic reactions for over 2,500 years. By inserting fine needles into the channels of energy which run underneath our skin, an acupuncturist can stimulate the body's own healing response and help restore its natural balance. The acupuncture treatment may include needles around the nose and sinuses, but may also include other body areas such as hands and feet. These techniques are very gentle and use very short fine needles and can be performed with very little or no discomfort.
If you are suffering with hay fever and would like further information on how Acupuncture may help you, please contact us at the Centre for an appointment.
WHY WAS 2018 SO SEVERE FOR POLLEN?
Following the Siberian winds of March 2018 and the rapid switch to warm sunshine during the spring would have been a welcome change for much of the British Isles. That is, until the onset of sneezing, itchy eyes and scratchy throat for the many millions of hay fever sufferers in the UK. Last year was particularly severe with the highest levels of pollen for more than a decade - and it was the topsy-turvy spring weather that was to blame.
Climatologists consider March as the start of the meteorological spring but the natural world follows its own calendar, which varies significantly year-to-year. 2018’s cold and wet March led to a delay in the start of the phenological spring, that moment following winter when an abundance of life returns to the natural world.
When spring finally sprang, all of nature appeared to blossom at once. Instead of a gradual onset to the pollen season, there was an explosion. By the end of spring, the sunniest May on record as well as consistently warm temperatures helped release huge amounts of grass pollen into the air we inhale.
OBSERVING HIGH LEVELS OF POLLEN
Unusually high levels of pollen were observed across the UK’s pollen count monitoring network in 2018. Owned and managed by the Met Office, each pollen station uses a ‘Burkard trap’ to extract pollen grains from the atmosphere by collecting them on a piece of sticky tape surrounding a rotating drum. Individual pollen grains are then identified and counted, using a microscope, by an expert observer.
WHICH TYPE OF POLLEN THAT AFFECTS YOU?
Of the 18 million British people allergic to pollen, 20% are sensitive to tree pollen. Grass pollen is the most common cause of allergies, affecting 95% of hay fever sufferers with much fewer people affected by weed and other pollen species.
Knowing which type of pollen you are allergic to may help you manage your symptoms at different times of year, but it gets even more complicated. There are around 150 different species of grass in the UK that cause hay fever, with different people affected by different grass species.
RESEARCH INTO SPECIES OF GRASS POLLEN
A dedicated research programme, identified the most significant of the 150 different species of grass pollen in the UK by using DNA sequencing and the UK plant database. Called PollerGEN the research involved the expertise of partners from Bangor University, Aberystwyth University, University of Exeter, University of Worcester, University of Sydney and the Met Office.
These findings could be very important if you suffer from allergic rhinitis. For instance, you may know you are allergic to grass pollen, as opposed to tree pollen. But do you know which type of grass pollen you are allergic to? This information could lead to detailed and local warnings, including which pollen is affecting which area and in what concentrations.
HOW CAN RESEARCH INTO POLLEN BE USED FURTHER?
Planners, developers and councils could go even further and use this insight to change our local environments. By replacing those grass species that cause most allergies in our sports fields, parks and neighbourhoods, fewer people may be affected.
A radical change, perhaps. But, if one day it helps relieve the symptoms of millions of hay fever sufferers it’s a change not to be sneezed at.