How to effectively manage hay fever and allergies

Jul 22, 2023
If you start experiencing symptoms, track where you’ve been and what you have come into contact with or been exposed to. Source: Getty

Ah, hay fever and allergies. If you’re a sufferer, you’ll know the symptoms all too well. Watery eyes, runny or congested nose, itchy throat and nose, and of course incessant sneezing.

A bout of hay fever or allergies can lead to other symptoms too, like headaches, fatigue, coughing, itchy mouth, or throat, and the list goes on.

Ask someone who suffers terribly, and they’ll tell you it’s a complete day wrecker. So how do you manage? And is it preventable? Read on to find out.

What is hay fever?

Hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, is essentially an allergic reaction that occurs when your body’s immune system recognises a harmless substance in the environment, such as pollen, dust mites, pet dander, or mould spores as harmful. When these allergens come into contact with the mucous membranes in your nose and eyes, your immune system releases histamine and other chemicals, leading to the typical symptoms of hay fever, like sneezing, nasal congestion, runny nose, itchy or watery eyes, and itching in the throat, nose, or ears.

How to effectively manage hay fever?

Well, that’s the age-old question. Many people ask me if it’s preventable in the first place, but the truth is, not completely. Sure, you can avoid wandering through gardens with pollen swirling around or steering clear of those friends’ homes with cats, but that’s not always possible (and you can’t stay cooped up indoors)! The good news is though, there are steps you can take to minimise symptoms and reduce the risk of developing hay fever and allergies.

Identify your triggers

This is the first place you should start when looking to manage your allergies. If you don’t actually know what sets you off, then it can be really hard to manage. The tricky thing with allergies is that everyone’s allergies are unique, so what triggers your symptoms could be different compared to another sufferer.

Identifying your triggers can unfortunately take some trial and error to understand what specifically causes your symptoms. Common triggers include pollen from plants, flowers, trees and grasses, dust mites, pet dander, and spores from mould. Many of these can be year-round triggers.

If you start experiencing symptoms, track where you’ve been and what you have come into contact with or been exposed to. Also, be mindful of what you eat and drink.

While food and drinks themselves do not cause hay fever, certain foods can sometimes cause a cross-reaction in individuals who are already allergic to certain types of pollen. This condition is known as oral allergy syndrome or pollen-food syndrome. In oral allergy syndrome (OAS), the proteins found in certain fruits, vegetables, and nuts can resemble the proteins found in specific pollens.

When a person with a pollen allergy consumes these foods, their immune system may mistakenly recognise them as allergenic pollen, triggering an allergic reaction.

Symptoms are usually confined to the lips, mouth and throat. The best way to manage OAS is to avoid offending foods. In very rare situations OAS can cause severe throat swelling or difficulty breathing and may lead to anaphylaxis, a more severe allergic reaction that requires urgent medical attention.

Be mindful of your surroundings

Once you understand what triggers your allergic reaction, be mindful of what’s happening in your area. For example, you can stay informed about pollen counts in your area, especially during the allergy season. You can find this information through local weather reports or online resources.

If it seems like it could be an environment that will exacerbate your symptoms, limit your outdoor activities on days when pollen counts are high. Pollen levels are typically highest during the mid-morning and early evening. If possible, schedule outdoor activities for other times of the day or when pollen counts are lower.

Keep indoor air clean

Yes, it’s true, you can suffer your symptoms indoors too! The good news is though that there are certain things you can do to keep the air clean. You may consider using air purifiers with HEPA filters in your home to remove allergens from the air but remember airborne particles are not the only ones in your home. Also, try to regularly clean and vacuum your living space to minimise dust and any pet dander.

Consider replacing carpets with wood, tile or vinyl. Keep windows closed during high pollen periods and consider using a dehumidifier to control mould growth if that is an issue in your home.

Replace curtains with blinds or shades and change bedding frequently. You can also consider using allergen-proof covers for your mattress, pillows, and doona covers. Keep pets outdoors if you are allergic to pet dander.

Over-the-counter medications

The best treatment for hayfever is to avoid triggers but sometimes this is not possible, and medications can play a role. Antihistamines, nasal sprays, and eye drops can help alleviate symptoms such as itching, sneezing, congestion, and watery eyes. Talk to your pharmacist or GP about suitable options for your specific symptoms and medical history.

Nasal saline rinses can help flush out allergens from your nasal passages, providing relief from congestion and reducing the frequency of sneezing. You can use a saline solution purchased from a pharmacy or make one at home using distilled water and salt.

Practice good personal hygiene

Shower and wash your hair before going to bed to remove any pollen that may have accumulated on your skin and hair throughout the day. This prevents transferring pollen to your bedding and exacerbates your symptoms. Wash your sheets regularly.

When to consult a healthcare professional

If your symptoms are severe or persistent, you really don’t have to keep suffering without finding a good solution for you. it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional. They may recommend prescription medications or allergy shots (immunotherapy) for long-term relief.

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