Hay fever is the common name for seasonal allergic rhinitis. Hay fever describes a reaction that occurs when your nose or eyes come in contact with allergens to which you are sensitive, such as pollens, dust mites, moulds or animal dander. For some people, exposure to these allergens can trigger an immune response (your body’s natural defence system), which leads to swelling and inflammation in the inner lining of the nose (rhinitis). Despite its name, it’s not caused by hay and doesn’t cause a fever.
How is hay fever treated?
In the pharmacy, we are able to help treat hay fever, depending on what the allergen is and how severe the symptoms are.
For some people, saltwater nasal sprays or douches (a stream of water sprayed into the nose) will provide substantial relief from hay fever. These non-medicated approaches are safe and can often help relieve symptoms. Brands include FLO and NeilMed.
These effectively reduce inflammation in the lining of the nose caused by hay fever or other conditions. Like asthma preventer medications, corticosteroid nasal sprays need to be used regularly and carefully to be effective. Different brands are available such as Flixonase, Nasonex, Rhinocort, Beconase.
These manage symptoms of hay fever by blocking the action of histamine, which the body releases in response to exposure to an allergen. In this way, antihistamines reduce the symptoms of the allergic reaction. They are available as tablets, syrups, nasal sprays and eye drops to offer localised relief where you are experiencing hay fever symptoms. For example, use eye drops for itchy or watery eyes. Brand names include Telfast, Claratyne, Azep, Aerius, Zyrtec, Zaditen, Livostin.
These unblock and dry the nose, but they should not be used for more than a few days. This is because they can cause problems such as ‘rebound congestion’, when your symptoms become worse after you stop using the decongestant. Examples of these types of nasal sprays include Dimetapp, Drixine, Spray-tish, Sinex and Sudafed.
These also unblock and dry the nose but they can have stimulant side effects such as tremors, difficulty sleeping, anxiety or increased blood pressure. These tablets may not be suitable for everyone, especially those who have high blood pressure. The medication available over the counter is Phenylephrine.
Minimise exposure to allergens
If the allergens that trigger your customer’s hay fever are known, reducing their exposure to them may reduce symptoms.
If pollens are causing hay fever, these tips may help:
- Stay indoors until after midday, especially when the pollen count is high, it’s windy or after thunderstorms.
- Wear sunglasses, carry tissues, shower when you arrive home, and rinse your eyes with water.
- If the trigger is grass, avoid mowing, playing or walking in grassy areas, and don’t go camping.
- Keep windows closed at home and in the car, and use recirculating air conditioning in the car.
- Avoid outdoor picnics during pollen season.
- If gardening at home, research which plants are less likely to trigger hay fever. Remove any weeds or vegetation outside your bedroom window that might trigger symptoms.
There can be complications of hay fever which may include disturbed sleep, tiredness during the day, headaches and poor concentration. Hay fever may also trigger frequent ear infections, such as otitis media in children, and sinus infections (sinusitis) in adults.
Untreated hay fever may also increase the risk of developing asthma, or make asthma harder to control, so it’s especially important to treat nasal symptoms if the customer is also asthmatic. This is because asthma and hay fever are both associated with airway inflammation. About 4 in every 5 people with asthma also have hay fever.