Ever seen the Grand Canyon?
I mean in person, not just in photos.
If you haven’t, then you probably wonder what the fuss is all about. Why bother driving hundreds of kilometers through arid, rugged terrain to see a big hole in the ground? Why travel halfway across the world for a ditch?
But if you’ve been there – seen it with your own two eyes and breathed in the crisp Arizona air – you’ll understand. There is something incredible, sublime, awe-inspiring about the place. You get a sense of your place in the universe standing at the lookout, watching the great canyon unfold before you. Things come into focus. You just get it.
Here’s my point: there are some things in life that you have to experience to understand.
Hay fever is one of them.
And if you’ve never experienced hay fever, well … good for you. You probably wonder what the fuss is. A runny nose and a bit of a cough caused by a few stray pollen particles? That doesn’t sound too bad! Just cheer up and get on with life!
But if you’re one of the nearly five million – yes, five million – Australians with hay fever, you’ll know that it’s no laughing matter. It’s no wonder Australians spend hundreds of millions of dollars on allergy medicine each year.
What are the symptoms of hay fever?
In some cases, hay fever symptoms are mild but unpleasant – kind of like some of your co-workers (just kidding).
For some people, experiencing hay fever is like hearing a dripping tap while you are trying to fall asleep: it’s unpleasant and distracting, but it’s not the end of the world.
Unfortunately, people often underestimate the seriousness of hay fever.
It’s something that I hear a lot: ‘Oh, it’s just hay fever’; ‘My hay fever is back but it’s no big deal’. Perhaps it isn’t a big deal for you – if so, then that’s great! But hay fever can be a chronic condition that interferes with every aspect of your life, damaging the quality of your sleep, your concentration, and your relationships.
So, how do you know if you are experiencing hay fever? You might be battling with one or more of the following:
- Your nose is running
- Your nose is itchy
- Your eyes are watering and itchy
- You’re sneezing, sneezing, sneezing … and then sneezing some more.
As I say, these symptoms can be mild, in some cases not even requiring allergy medication. For many Australians, however, symptoms can be ‘so severe that a person can’t sleep or concentrate, and may feel tired or unwell.’
If you are affected by anaphylaxis or if your symptoms are severe, you should speak to your doctor to talk about how to best manage your hay fever. If you or a loved one are experiencing anaphylaxis, use an Epipen or similar and seek immediate and urgent medical assistance.
What is hay fever?
Ultimately, hay fever is an allergic reaction. It’s that simple.
Here’s something a little more technical: the correct name for hay fever is allergic rhinitis. Do you need to use the technical name? Of course not – you do you. But there are two reasons why I think it’s helpful to know the term.
Firstly, it is a reminder that hay fever is an allergic reaction rather than a viral or bacterial problem.
An allergic reaction is a case of right response, wrong situation. Imagine you have a teenage son or daughter. When they return home from school one afternoon, you mistake them for a burglar. You quickly call the police, lock yourself in your room, and then hope for the best. In some ways, it’s the right response – if it was an unknown intruder, you probably should call the police. But it’s directed towards entirely the wrong person.
An allergy isn’t so different. Your body is responding as it should to a dangerous invader. Your immune system is going into overdrive to land the knockout blow on the fungi spore, or the pet hair, or the pollen that has become trapped in your nasal passage. But what your body doesn’t realise is that all of these are essentially harmless. It’s putting its blood, sweat, and tears into fighting something that is absolutely innocent.
The second reason that I like the term allergic rhinitis is that ‘hay fever’ implies that you get it from … well, hay. And this generally isn’t the case. In fact, the triggers of hay fever include:
- Pollen from trees and grass
- Pet hair
- Spores from fungi
- Chemicals used in cleaning, construction, and common household products
The result? Inflammation and mucus. Lots of mucus. Yuck.
Four ways to manage hay fever
Around 20% of Australians have hay fever, which is kind of comforting. While it’s not nice to think that nearly one in five Australians have to battle with a running nose on a seasonal basis, it is nice to know that you are not alone.
Many Australians manage their hay fever effectively and lead normal lives. Here’s some advice:
- Avoid triggers
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: prevention is better than cure (of course, I wasn’t the first to say this!). It seems like simple advice, but it’s worth restating: if you know your triggers, then avoid them. I know that the dog in the park is friendly, but is a quick pat worth a few days of swollen sinuses and itchy eyes? The flowers at the front of the florist would look beautiful on your dining room table, but can you afford a week of mass mucus?
- Use technology in your fight against hay fever
There’s an app for everything now. At least, that’s how it seems. There’s certainly an app that will tell you the pollen count in your local area. On high pollen days, you might consider slightly altering your routine to spend a little less time outdoors. This will also help you if you struggle with asthma.
- Use appropriate allergy medicine
Antihistamine tablets are often used by those with mild symptoms. If your symptoms are more severe, a nasal spray may be right for you. Sydney University health professor says that if your symptoms are ‘anything other than mild, then [you] really need a nasal spray.’
- Speak to your doctor or pharmacist
I am always surprised at how reluctant people can be to seek advice. There’s this strange view that the rugged, independent individual shouldn’t need assistance from anyone. Here’s a hard truth: no matter how independent you are, you are also interdependent – you rely on others and others rely on you. That’s a beautiful thing.
I’m getting too philosophical here, so let me put it in very practical, tangible terms: if in doubt, speak to a trusted healthcare professional about your hay fever! We can point you towards the best allergy medicines and help you find long term solutions to the hay fever problem.
Fight the good fight
Imagine that you’re in the boxing ring.
Your opponent? Hay fever.
Sadly, too many people have given up and given in. Basically, they’re letting hay fever get the points and win the championship belt.
Don’t let hay fever get in the way of your life. Too many people do that — don’t join their ranks. Instead, resist. Take control. Manage it well.