Pollen & your asthma

What you need to know about hayfever and asthma

Pollen is a common allergy, known as hayfever, and often goes hand in hand with asthma. Hayfever affects around one in five people and can vary in severity from year to year, so it’s important to be prepared for hayfever season to keep your asthma under control. 

 

What is hayfever?

Hayfever is an allergy to pollen, the substance which plants release into the air, typically during springtime. It can feel similar to having a cold and the symptoms include:

  • Sneezing
  • Blocked nose
  • Running nose
  • Itchy or red eyes
  • An itchy feeling in your throat, ears or nose
  • Postnasal drip 

It can also cause a lack of taste or smell, headaches, earache and fatigue, although these symptoms are less common. 

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When is hayfever season?

Hayfever is usually associated with the summer months, but it can actually occur anytime between spring and early autumn. This is because there are different varieties of pollen produced by varying types of plants. Knowing when your hayfever symptoms occur can help to pinpoint which pollen type you are allergic to. 

  1. March to mid-May: this is when tree pollen is at its highest 

  2. Mid-May to July: is the peak season for grass pollen which affects 95% of hayfever sufferers

  3. Late June to September: weed pollen is prevalent at this time

It’s possible to be allergic to more than one type of pollen. Keeping a diary of when your symptoms occur and what type of pollen was present that day can help you to narrow it down. 

 

Pollen counts

There are times during these months when there is a high level of pollen in the air. This is usually attributed to hot weather, pollution or thunderstorms. Windy and humid days can also cause pollen to spread quickly.  During this time, you’re more at risk of having symptoms, or your symptoms getting worse. This, in turn, can trigger your asthma, as the allergic response can make it harder to breathe. 

Luckily, you can predict when high pollen days are coming as this is reported with the weather and there are a number of apps which function as a pollen tracker. This means you can check the ‘pollen report’ before going out, or making plans to spend time outdoors to ensure you have taken precautionary medicine and have your inhaler to hand. 

 

How do I keep my symptoms under control?

There are a number of over-the-counter treatments available to prevent and treat the symptoms of hayfever. These include:

  1. Antihistamines- These are tablets which can be taken daily to manage and prevent symptoms. They also come in the form of eye drops and nasal sprays to help with a blocked nose and irritated eyes

  2. Decongestants- these are nasal sprays which relieve a blocked nose by reducing the swelling. They can also be used to treat the symptoms of a cold so are not allergy specific and shouldn’t be used for more than 7 days at a time

If over-the-counter treatments don’t provide relief, then prescription medications are available. These include: 

 

  1. Corticosteroids- these are anti-inflammatory nasal sprays which relieve a blocked nose and itchy eyes. They are more effective than using antihistamines on their own if nasal congestion is a persistent problem

  2. Corticosteroid tablets- these are available on prescription for short term relief of severe symptoms. They shouldn’t be used for more than 10 days and are given to keep symptoms under control during important events; such as a driving test or exams

Antihistamines work best when you start taking them a couple of weeks before being exposed to pollen, and then continue until throughout hayfever season. Keeping your hayfever symptoms under control is the key to ensuring your asthma stays controlled. It’s still important to maintain your prescribed asthma treatment however and take your preventer inhaler as directed by your GP. 

 

When should I use my blue inhaler?

You should use your reliever inhaler whenever you need to, i.e. if you are experiencing asthma symptoms. These are: 

  • Feeling breathless
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Having a tight chest 

Your reliever inhaler, which is usually blue in colour, should also be used if you have an asthma attack. If you find that you’re using your reliever more often than usual- i.e more than twice a week, make an appointment with your GP for a review. 

 

Sources

Asthma.org, Pollen, hayfever and asthma: https://www.asthma.org.uk/advice/triggers/pollen/

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