Hay fever - it’s not to be sneezed at
It's the scourge of the summer for many Irish people, the invisible enemy that reduces sufferers to sniffly, red-eyed wrecks. Hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, is an allergic reaction to the pollen in the air and it's estimated that about 20pc of the Irish population suffers from the condition.
Generally, people develop hay fever as a child, and the condition often improves with age, although according to Mary Rose Burke, chief pharmacist at Boots, you can also develop it in your late 20s and if you do develop it later, you're probably stuck with it.
The runny nose, itchy eyes and congestion commonly associated with hay fever are actually the body's attempt at defending itself. The pollen grains from grass, plants and trees is airborne and enters the body via the nose or mouth. "The body recognises there's a foreign object and launches an immune response," Mary Rose says. "It's that immune response that releases histamine and causes the cells within the lining of the nose to swell up and become congested and gives you either a congested or runny nose, the weeping eyes and the dry, raspy feeling in the throat."
People can be allergic to different pollens, the most common one here is grass pollen. Typically, people are allergic to the pollen where they're from (which explains why they may not have any trouble when they're on holiday) and for the most part our hay fever season starts mid-May and runs for about six weeks. If you haven't been suffering yet and think you're in the clear, that's probably not the case.
"Typically we would have seen hay fever by this stage but because the weather's been quite cold we haven't," says Mary Rose. "When we have a change in the weather and rapid rise in temperature, we'll see hay fever kicking off quickly. For anyone who hasn't really started considering their hay fever this year, I don't want them thinking, 'God, I normally would be sick by May bank holiday and now I'm not getting any symptoms'."
So normal service will resume soon but the colder weather has at least brought a bit of a reprieve. Mary Rose suggests people use this time to get themselves organised for the summer ahead. She says: "I'd suggest anybody who normally suffers to be proactive and go to their pharmacist and ask for medicines that would help with their symptoms. It's about tailoring the treatment to the individual."
There are a number of steps you can take to help with hay fever, even before you reach for medication or other treatments. There are obvious things like avoiding cutting the grass if you're a hay fever sufferer and keeping an eye on the daily pollen counts (Met Eireann usually mention them in weather bulletins).
A bit of savvy and forward planning should help too. Mary Rose explains: "First thing in the morning, the air is quite fresh and if you want to exercise, if you run or cycle do it first thing in the morning, when the pollen hasn't started rising."
Conditions will ebb and flow as the day progresses so try and plan your activities accordingly. "On a hot summer's day, typically the morning starts off with a low pollen count," says Mary Rose, "late morning to early afternoon, the pollen count is getting higher; then early to mid-afternoon, the air can be clear again."
It seems unlikely, when hay fever is associated with sunshine, but as sufferers will know, symptoms can worsen again in the evening. As the temperature drops, around six or seven o'clock, the pollen drops down through the atmosphere and symptoms will flare up again.
Mary Rose also recommends wearing wraparound sunglasses during the day to stop pollen being blown into the eyes.
If you or your children are out a lot during the day, take a shower when you get home as it will take pollen out of hair, so it won't be lying around, causing irritation overnight.
For those who are looking for natural remedies to their hayfever woes, Lisa O'Gorman at the Nelsons Homeopathic Dispensary, suggests the following natural remedies for tackling the symptoms of hay fever. "Supplements are best taken from early spring," she says, "however, it's never too late".
Solaray QBC Plex (€22.08) is a combination of quercitin, bromelian and vitamin C. This helps to reduce inflammation. Quercetin inhibits the production and release of histamine, which is involved in allergic and inflammatory reactions, so quercetin acts like an antihistamine and an anti-inflammatory. Bromelian is an effective natural anti-inflammatory and vitamin C supports the immune system.
Ribes Nigrum (€16.25) is a herbal tincture made from blackcurrant seed recommended by one of Nelsons' Italian customers. It helps to reduce symptoms of hay fever and blackcurrants contain five times more vitamin C than oranges, making it an effective treatment for hay fever.
Sinuhay (€15.95) is an Irish-made product containing elderflower, euphrasia and Echinacea. These herbs have been chosen because of their anti-catarrhal and astringent properties. The formula can be used as a preventative prior to the hay fever season starting but is also very effective once the season is underway and the symptoms are present.
Pollenna (€7.25) contains a selection of homeopathic remedies, specifically combined to protect and bring fast, effective relief for the distressing symptoms of hay fever. Pollenna does not cause drowsiness and can be taken with other medicines.
Nelsons HayFever and Allergy (€11.95) is a combination of remedies designed to alleviate the main symptoms of hay fever and other allergies.
Occloheel eye drops (€9.50) is a homeopathic remedy which helps to soothe red, itchy, inflamed and watery eyes.
Luffa Heel (€11.95) is a homeopathic nasal spray which assists with irritated and runny noses.