Are you battling hay fever? Help is here!
Spring is a lovely time of year, with milder weather, longer days and the promise of summer holidays just around the corner.
But if you suffer from hay fever, spring can be a waking nightmare, full of sneezing; a runny or stuffy nose; itchy ears, nose and throat; red, itchy or watery eyes; headaches; and trouble sleeping or concentrating.
What is hay fever?
Hay fever – also called ‘seasonal allergic rhinitis’ – is an allergic reaction that makes the tiny hairs and mucus in the nose trap dust, pollen and other microscopic particles. A person with hay fever is allergic to some of these particles.
Research shows that grass pollen – the fine, powdery substance released by anthers (part of a flower) is by far the most common cause of hay fever in Victoria.
Hay fever affects around 18% (nearly one in five) of people in Australia and New Zealand.
Why is hay fever worse in spring?
Plants release their pollen when they are flowering and different types of plants flower at different times of year. Most grasses flower in late spring and early summer. During the flowering season, weather conditions such as wind and humidity will also affect how much grass pollen is in the air.
The highest levels of hay fever start occurring, on average, in mid-October and fluctuate daily until the end of December. By the end of November, grasses start dying off and the levels of grass pollen in the air begin to reduce. A number of factors affect the daily count, including changes in temperature, wind conditions, humidity and precipitation.
Melbourne’s worst grass pollen days are in November, when hot northerly winds bring pollen into the city from pastures in the surrounding countryside. Southerly winds, by contrast, are cooler and more humid, and bring mainly pollen-free air into Melbourne from the ocean.
How can I prevent hay fever?
One of the most proactive things you can do to prevent hay fever is to check the pollen count forecast:
- Deakin AIRwatch is a pollen counting and forecasting service that provides the pollen count at our Burwood and Waurn Ponds campuses from 1 October to 31 December each year.
- Melbourne Pollen provides other pollen count and forecast sites in Melbourne and around Victoria.
On days with a high count, on windy days or after thunderstorms, try to stay indoors as much as possible or keep your medication with you at all times.
In your garden, choose plants that are pollinated by birds or insects, rather than plants that release their seeds into the air. Also try to reduce your exposure to dust and dust mites, animals and animal hair or fur, and regularly splash your eyes with cold water to flush out any pollen.
What should I do if I have asthma symptoms?
According to Asthma Australia, roughly 80% of people with asthma also experience allergies. In addition to irritating your sinuses, increased pollen counts during spring can be a possible trigger for asthma flare-ups or attacks.
Symptoms of asthma can include wheezing, breathlessness, shortness of breath, coughing and chest tightness. Everyone is different but these symptoms may be exacerbated by exercise, or be more pronounced early in the morning or late at night.
The relationships between asthma, hay fever and thunderstorm asthma is a complex one, and treatment will vary depending on your combination of symptoms and whether or not you’ve had symptoms before. If you have asthma or hay fever, or you’ve been experiencing new symptoms, it’s best to see your doctor each year for a check-up and/or to update your asthma management plan – make an appointment with the Deakin Medical Centre now.
How can I treat hay fever?
It’s best to seek the advice of a health professional, who may suggest any of the following:
- Intranasal corticosteroid sprays – containing a very low dose of steroids, they are one of the most effective treatments for allergic rhinitis if used regularly.
- Non-sedating antihistamine medications – useful to control sneezing and itching, but not as effective if symptoms are severe. Seek advice if you’re breastfeeding, as some medications can cause breastfed babies to become irritable and restless.
- Eye drops – may relieve itchy, swollen or runny eyes. Ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice on choosing the correct eye drops.
- Decongestant nasal sprays – useful for quick relief, but should not be used for more than five days, as long-term use can damage the lining of the nose. Certain people should not use decongestants (for example, if you’re pregnant or have high blood pressure). Discuss with your doctor or pharmacist before using these medications.
- Allergen immunotherapy – some people may benefit from allergen immunotherapy, which exposes a person to increasing amounts of an allergen to improve tolerance and reduce symptoms. Seek advice from your doctor.
If you need help with your hay fever, asthma or any other symptoms that concern you, make a free appointment at one of our on-campus Medical Centres.