This is tempting fate, but thus far in my life, I have been pretty fortunate with my health. Sure, it could be that as a pharmacist, I know a bit more about health and wellbeing than the average bear, but it is undeniable that I have also been lucky. I am currently touching every piece of wood in the room as I write this. Pride cometh before the fall, and all that… But there is one thing that harrasses me consistently: hay fever. Some years, it can start kicking in around August and can run through until April. Just a casual nine months.
If, like me, you are a victim of hay fever, I thought it might take the sting off if you at least understood what was happening to you.
How It Works
I find myself thinking about the song 99 Red Balloons by Nina; a young girl lets 99 red balloons into the sky and the government misinterprets them as an enemy invasion. They launch a missile strike in retaliation and the city is reduced to dust. Well, long story short, this is what happens to your body. You know all those pesky symptoms you hate so much? The runny noses, the itchiness, the sneezing and the watery eyes? Well, that actually has nothing to do with the pollen. It is your body misinterpreting this harmless substance for something dangerous, and so it triggers your immune system to flush out the ‘harmless foreign entity’. Mucus is produced, and your nasal passages become inflamed. With this in mind, it makes perfect sense why pollen hits some people so badly and others not at all. It is nothing more than a malfunction.
This process is largely true of all allergens, not just hay fever. Here are some of the most common allergens:
- Tree pollen
- Grass pollen
- Dust mites
- Flakes of animal skin or hair
- Insect bite and stings
- Nuts, milk
How do you get tested?
You need to go and see a doctor to get an official diagnosis. Of course, you might have good reason to suspect hay fever before you get an official diagnosis, so you can take pre-emptive steps like picking up some claratyne in the meantime. Once you get to the doctor, they will do the following:
Skin prick test: They will divide your body into different sections and then expose you to small amounts of different allergens in different regions. Over the next half an hour, you are closely observed to see if you get any rash of hives developing only in that section of your body. This rules a lot of things out really quickly and helps you to know what your specific allergens are.
Blood test: The doctor or allergy specialist will draw some blood and send it away to measure how well your body responds to specific allergens. It is really trying to work out how many allergy causing antibodies are floating around in your bloodstream. The technical term is immunoglobulin antibodies.
Tips and Tricks
Once you know exactly what makes you tick, your main defence is to avoid that particular thing like it is the plague.
- Use a local pollen count website to find out how much pollen will be in the air once you leave your house. If it is high, nail up your front door. These websites function a bit like a UV index, so they are incredibly easy to use.
- Shower after getting around outside (particularly in those nasty months)
- Set your air conditioner to recirculated air if pollen counts are high
- Keep sunnies handy. This reduces the amount of pollen that can get in your eyes
- Wear a mask. COVID has really de-stigmatised the wearing of masks. It becomes your own recirculated air con on the move!
- Get some bleach and vinegar to kill any mould lurking in those corners of your house
- Open your windows to make sure you are getting ventilation
- Keep pets outside, or at least out of your bedrooms where they can get their hair and skin all caught up in your sheets
- Your bedsheets are fiends for dust because it captures all your dead and flaky skin. Wash them regularly in hot water.
- Remove soft toys from your bedroom. They are a pinata of dust once they get moved.
As always, there are a number of different treatments to help you get around your allergen.
Firstly, you will want to keep a claratyne handy at all times. Claratyne is an antihistamine which reduces the symptoms of an allergic reaction. Remember the metaphorical generals who mistook a red balloon for the enemy that I mentioned earlier? In your body, these are hormones called histamines. So, an antihistamine reverses their terrible decision. Claratyne is fast working, and has no side effects, so you can take it wherever and whenever.
Secondly, you could go for an intranasal corticosteroid spray. These work well if you have moderate to severe symptoms, and they work incredibly well in alleviating the symptoms of allergic rhinitis (uncontrollable sneezing). The strength varies across the different brands and products so do make sure you read the instructions carefully. You can combine this with claratyne to really hit the nail on the head.
Finally, there is an option called allergen immunotherapy. This should only be carried out by an immunologist because it involves willingly exposing yourself to the allergen over time to help train your body to realise that it is not actually a threat. Over time, you will develop a tolerance and stop experiencing symptoms. But this needs to be done in a controlled systematic manner. Trying this on your own will range from uncomfortable to fatal.
I don’t mean to make these sound trivial. Allergic reactions can be fatal, and just because you have got through an exposure before relatively easily, that doesn’t necessarily mean you will do so again. If in doubt, call an ambulance.
Best of luck,