COLUMN: Pharmacist’s tips not to be sneezed at

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Every year there seems to be an increasing number of people suffering with hay fever. The season is longer than most people think and unfortunately, it’s not just hay – or grass – that’s the culprit.

From March to May there’s tree pollen, followed by grass pollen from mid-May to July (95 per cent of sufferers are in this category), and finally, weed pollen from the end of June to September.

With around one in five people suffering from the condition, a lot of us are paying close attention to the pollen count – the number of grains of pollen in every cubic metre of air. To make matters worse the pollen levels are also on the increase both on a daily basis and the frequency of days when higher levels are seen.

Hay fever symptoms often begin when the pollen count hits 50, which is often described as high – high range is between 50 and 149. On a bad day when it is described as ‘very high’ it could be anything over 150.

Those unaffected are often less than sympathetic, because at first glance the symptoms may seem trivial, such as sneezing or coughing, a runny or blocked nose, itchy or watery eyes and an itchy throat, mouth, nose and ears.

What’s all the fuss? Yet a third of adults who get hay fever say their symptoms have a considerable impact on their work, home and social life.

NHS Choices offers various self-help measures that can minimise exposure and severity of symptoms including: wearing wraparound sunglasses to stop pollen getting in your eyes, take a shower and change clothes after being outdoors, applying a small amount of Vaseline to the nasal openings to trap pollen grains, and staying inside when the pollen count is high.

Although the above can help, though there’s a limit to what can be achieved. Staying in doors for the whole of summer isn’t practical, so have a word with your pharmacist and discuss the treatment options available to you.

Antihistamines block the action of histamine released when the body responds to an allergen. Nasal sprays and eye drops containing antihistamines are also available for a more local action. Nasal decongestants help with a blocked nose by reducing the swelling of blood vessels in the nose, which opens up the nasal passage. Generally, there’s no need to see your doctor about hay fever, but you may need to make an appointment if you can’t control your symptoms with over-the-counter medications.

Hay fever can be annoying and unpleasant, but there’s no need to suffer. One product may be all you need or, often a combination of products can offer even more benefits. Your pharmacist will help you make the right choice and their advice is not be ‘sneezed at.’