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Why is hay fever so bad at the moment?

·3-min read
Hay fever sufferers have complained of worsened symptoms this year, which could be caused by a number of factors (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Hay fever sufferers have complained of worsened symptoms this year, which could be caused by a number of factors (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Pollen season is in full force right now and many hay fever sufferers have complained of feeling like they have worse symptoms this year compared to previous years.

Hay fever occurs because of pollen being released from trees, grass and weeds, causing allergic reactions that can result in itchy and watery eyes, a runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, coughing and sneezing.

The Met Office is currently recording “very high” pollen forecasts in most of England including south west England, south east, London, East Anglia, the Midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber regions. The rest of the country, and Wales, is currently experiencing “high” levels.

According to Allergy UK, hay fever affects between 10 per cent and 30 per cent of all adults in the UK and as many as 40 per cent of children.

We take a closer look at why hay fever symptoms seem to be worse in 2021 and how you can get relief.

How long will the season last?

Hay fever season usually lasts from late March to July, but different types of pollen peak at different times. However, this May was unusually wet and cool, which means many people did not begin noticing symptoms until the temperatures started climbing rapidly in June.

Tree pollen is the first to be released, typically starting in late March and affecting around 25 per cent of people. However, most people are allergic to grass pollen, which usually starts in the first two weeks of June.

How bad your hay fever symptoms are also depends on where you live. According to the Met Office, urban areas have lower pollen counts than the countryside, and places inland have higher counts than around the coast.

Is there more pollen in the air than before?

Yes. As the earth warms as a result of climate change, pollen season is lasting longer and there is generally more of it in the air, all of which is bad news for hay fever sufferers.

Scientists warn that this season is only going to get worse if the climate crisis continues in its current trajectory. Modelling in a study spanning north west Europe suggests that climate change will increase the severity of hay fever season by up to 60 per cent.

Has lockdown affected hay fever?

Another factor that may be causing worse hay fever symptoms this year could be a weakened tolerance to allergens, such as pollens, due to the coronavirus lockdown.

Over lockdown, there was a decrease in the number of people catching viruses apart from Covid-19, such as the flu and the common cold. This was because people spent more time indoors and when they were out and about, they usually wore a face mask.

According to pharmacy industry newspaper PM Live, homes can also contain allergens for days at a time, which could lead to heightened allergy symptoms despite staying indoors more often.

Allergy UK produced an interactive “Allergy House” to help people pinpoint some of the most common allergens found in their homes.

How do I alleviate hay fever symptoms?

Hay fever sufferers should check pollen counts daily and stay inside wherever possible when the count is high. You should ideally keep your windows closed, especially in the early morning when pollen is being released into the air and in the evening when pollen begins to fall to ground level again.

According to Allergy UK, you could avoid worsening symptoms but wearing wraparound sunglasses and a hat with a peak when you do have to be outdoors, to stop allergens from getting in your eyes and onto your face.

Wearing a face mask may also help stop allergens from getting onto your face.

Medication such as antihistamines and nasal steroids can be very effective when used correctly. You can also do a nasal rinse with saline solution that will help wash away allergens from the nose and can be used as frequently as required.

The NHS says you should not cut grass or walk on grass, spend too much time outside, keep fresh flowers in the house, smoke or be around smoke, or dry clothes outdoors - as they might catch pollen.

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