Common ailments

Hay fever

In the past couple of weeks, I have noticed that I am constantly sneezing and my eyes feel sore and itchy when I’m out and about. I have never suffered with hay fever so is it possible that I have developed this allergy at the age of 50?

Hay fever is an allergy to pollen that affects around one in four people in the UK. Pollen is a fine powder released by plants (including grass and trees) as part of their reproductive cycle. It contains proteins that can cause the nose, eyes, throat and sinuses to become swollen, irritated and inflamed. Most sufferers will either have an allergy to tree pollen, released during the spring, or grass pollen released in later spring and early summer.

Although hay fever is generally thought to begin in childhood, some adults will develop it much later in life, experiencing unpleasant symptoms such as congestion, sneezing and itching for the first time. It is usually people with a genetic disposition who will develop the allergy but it is not known what triggers it. The number of hay fever sufferers is thought to have doubled in the last 20 years and it has been suggested that this could be down to increased levels of pollution, or that our bodies just aren’t as resilient as they used to be.

Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for hay fever but there are treatments which can help to ease your symptoms. These include antihistamines, which can help prevent the allergic reaction from happening, or corticosteroids which help reduce inflammation and swelling, both of which are available from your local pharmacy. It is worth trying antihistamine tablets first and then eye drops or nose sprays if tablets aren't enough. After this, if your symptoms are very troublesome then I suggest you speak to your GP. The most effective way to control hay fever is to avoid or limit your exposure to pollen, but I understand this isn’t always ideal during the summer months when we enjoy spending time outdoors.

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