If you think it’s the pollen from flowers causing your sniffles – think again. Flowers are insect-pollinated (they are brightly coloured to attract bees) and so don’t cause hay fever unless you have a lot of contact with them; for example, if you’re a florist. Hay fever is only caused by wind-pollinated plants, like grasses, trees and weeds.
Tree pollen: If you start feeling irritated and runny-nosed during spring, this is probably the pollen causing the symptoms.
Grass pollen: Towards the end of spring and during mid-summer (June and July), grass causes the most problems.
Weed pollen: Weed pollen can be released from early spring to late autumn.
What can make hayfever, or the risk of having it, worse? There is a strong genetic link, so it’s common for hay fever to run in families, and passive smoking during childhood dramatically increases the risk of getting it. Sufferers are more likely to be affected on hot, sunny days, and, paradoxically, town and city-dwellers are often the most hit, because the air stays warmer for longer in built-up areas, and air pollution may exacerbate hay fever symptoms.
Can hay fever come and go in cycles? If it seems that some years you suffer badly and others not so much, this is because you can get variable hay fever – and hormones also come into play. Hay fever usually starts during teenage years, with symptoms increasing in your 20s and 30s. The onset of puberty can either increase or decrease the effects. In short, it’s difficult to predict how you’ll be affected year by year.
Is there any way to avoid hay fever? Avoiding pollen is tricky, but try to keep windows in buildings and cars shut when there’s a high pollen count, and avoid walking in grassy areas during the afternoon and early evening, when symptoms can be worse. Fit a pollen filter to your car if you’re worried about it getting in through the air vents, and set up an air purifier in your house. Also, pollen gets trapped in hair, so wash it regularly. Asthma often goes hand-in-hand with allergies like hay fever. If you have asthma, your symptoms – tight chest, shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing – may get worse when you have hay fever; while having hay fever means you’re three times more likely to develop asthma. Hay fever symptoms are worse on hot, sunny days, but an asthma attack brought on by pollen is most likely to happen during thunder storms.
What are some natural remedies to try?
- Many people swear by using local honey to combat their hay fever symptoms. The theory is that pollen from local plants gets left behind in the honey, building up your immunity to it.
- A few changes to your diet could help. Up your intake of foods containing natural antihistamines like vitamin C (strawberries, broccoli, calves liver) and quercetin (citrus fruits, onion, garlic). Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (salmon, walnuts) also reduce inflammation caused by allergies.
- Tomatoes, oranges, cheese and chocolate all contain histamine, so cut back on these, as well as dairy products, which increase mucous production.
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