Do you experience a runny nose, sneezing and watering eyes but aren’t sick? You may be one of the 20% of New Zealanders who react to different pollen in the air. Take a look at our comprehensive guide to hay fever symptoms and treatments to find out more.
What Is Hay Fever?
Hay fever is the common term used describe the body’s allergic response to grass, weed and tree pollen. Hay fever is a form of allergic rhinitis (inflammation of the nasal passage lining) known as ‘Seasonal Rhinitis – where symptoms occur at certain times of the year, for example in summer when grass pollen is released into the air.
Allergens (in this case pollen) are dispersed through the air and breathed in through the nose and mouth. When the allergen comes into contact with the sensitive lining of the nose and sinuses it triggers the body’s natural allergic response unnecessarily thinking these tiny particles are invaders.
This allergic response causes an overreaction from antibodies and the release of a chemical called histamine into the body. This causes inflammation and results in a variety of symptoms as listed below.
What Is Pollen?
Pollen is a powder like substance produced by flowers, trees, weeds and grasses, it is used to fertilise plants of the same species to produce a seed. Pollen grains are very small and light and are dispersed by floating in the air, and can travel long distances. Breathing in this pollen is the cause of hay fever.
How Do You Know If You Are Allergic To Pollen?
It is best to see your GP to find out if you are allergic to pollen. They will generally use the ‘prick test’ method which involves a small scratch or prick of the skin with specially prepared allergen solutions from each of the different pollen types.
If you are allergic your skin will react with varying degrees of redness, swelling or even hives – or any combination of these things. It is important to note it is the specific proteins present in these pollen that people are reacting to, allergies to flowers such as lilies or daisies is more likely due to the scent rather than pollen.
These tests will help to determine which types of pollen you react to and also how severe your reaction is. This information will aid the doctor in determining the best course of treatment for you as well as providing you with a more specific idea of which pollen you need to avoid.
Symptoms Of Hay Fever
Each person’s allergic response to allergens can differ but those who suffer from hay fever are usually subject to the following symptoms when exposed to pollen.
- Nasal and sinus congestion
- Watery red eyes
- Itchy eyes
- Swollen or puffy skin surrounding the eyes
- Runny nose
Prolonged exposure to the allergen may result in more severe hay fever symptoms including but no limited to;
- Tiredness as a result of poor sleep
- Sinus and eye infections
- Aggravated asthmatic symptoms
Allergic Rhinitis And Hay Fever?
The term hay fever and Allergic Rhinitis are often used interchangeably however there is a distinction made within this classification of Rhinitis. Allergic Rhinitis is officially described as “an inappropriate immune system response to an allergen” the most common forms of allergens are dust mites, pet dander, pollen and mould. Allergic rhinitis can be categorised into two sub categories;
- Seasonal Rhinitis. Symptoms occur at certain times of the year (pollen).
- Perennial Rhinitis. Symptoms occur at any time of the year (dust mites, mould and dog and cat dander).
Because hay fever is considered seasonal, it is more a type of Allergic Rhinitis and should be referred to as Seasonal Rhinitis in most cases.
Difference Between Hay Fever And A Cold
Hay fever and colds can be easy to confuse because they both result in similar symptoms initially. Both may present with sneezing, runny nose and even a cough. So how can you tell the difference?
Timing is a key factor, colds are more prevalent during the winter months while hay fever is most often encountered during the warmer months. Hay fever symptoms are almost immediately evident and occur with a few minutes of coming into contact with the airborne allergen, while colds tend to be contracted through touch or coughs and sneezes several days after contact. As well as timing there are two key differences between the two conditions;
- Colour Of Nasal Discharge. For colds it is likely to be a yellowish/green in colour, and for hay fever, it’s clear.
- Itchiness. Usually occurring around the eyes or throat, itchiness is a symptom typically only experienced with hay fever.
Hay Fever Season In NZ
The length of the pollen season in New Zealand depends on where you live around the country and the specific species of plants/trees you are allergic to but here is a general guide to the pollens and when they are released. Officially the pollen season in New Zealand lasts around 34 weeks (however there are different pollen released at all times of the year), and the timing of the official pollen season does vary each calendar year.
Pines, Macrocarpa and Wattle trees kick off the pollen season in July and August, with other trees such as Oak, Poplar, Ash, Elm, Alder and Birch joining in over August and into September.
Grass pollen make an entrance from around October through to February, this includes the pollen from various species of grass with the top three being Ryegrass, Timothy and Cocksfoot grass.
Privet and members of the Composite family of weeds add to the pollen load throughout January and February including weeds such as plantains, sorrels and nettles.
Fungal spores can also be a factor for many and are most prominent in February and March but are released year round. For more detailed information on NZ’s pollen calendar see Allergy NZ’s link here.
For an indication of what pollen levels are in your area, local weather website Metservice NZ provide a simple pollen forecast service over the spring, summer, autumn seasons. A rating of ‘low’, ‘moderate’ or ‘high’ is given for each city as well as an indication of the types of pollen likely to be encountered.
Treating Hay Fever Naturally
While you may not be able to get rid of hay fever for good, once you know which allergen is triggering your symptoms managing your hay fever naturally is possible. Avoiding your particular allergen is always the main aim in any hay fever treatment, along with finding what supplementary treatment works for you – we are all different. The following supplements may be helpful in managing your hay fever naturally.
- Quercetin. The natural anti-histamine effects of this flavonoid may be able to help reduce the inflammation associated with hay fever. Foods that contain Quercetin are parsley, onions, red apples, berries, broccoli, and yellow and green peppers.
- Probiotics. A healthy gut is always a good place to start and probiotics are widely used in a variety of circumstances relating to health. Multi-strain probiotic supplements with high doses are best and you can find probiotics naturally in the following foods; sauerkraut and Kefir yoghurt.
- Bromelain. It is thought Bromelain is helpful for treating the respiratory distress and inflammation associated with allergies. Pineapple is a good source of Bromelain.
- Vitamin C. Always a prominent factor in anything relating to the immune system, Vitamin C is thought to be a strong antioxidant that can strengthen the immune system while reducing the amount of histamine that is released. Foods that contain vitamin C are kiwifruit, berries, broccoli, chilli peppers, parsley and kale.
5 Top Tips For Managing Hay Fever Naturally
Keep these top 5 tips in mind when looking for ways to manage your hay fever this season.
- Avoid Tomatoes. They are naturally high in histamines.
- Avoid Alcohol. It may increase the likelihood of an allergic reaction.
- Avoid Dairy Products. There is some suggestion they may thicken existing mucus deposits.
- Don’t Hang Your Washing On The Line. This is particularly important during high pollen count days.
- Wash Your Hair At Night. This avoids pollen exposure from build-up in your hair when sleeping.
Hay Fever Medications
While there is no cure for hay fever for some people it has a huge impact on their quality of life and medication may help alleviate the symptoms. For some, it is necessary to begin medicating before the pollen season starts, for others they can be used for quick relief when symptoms occur. Your doctor can advise you on which option is best for you.
Medications are available via prescription from your doctor, or over the counter at your local chemist. Even when taking medications it is important to continue to try to avoid allergens whenever possible. Medications for hay fever include nasal sprays, tablets and liquids (designed with children in mind), see below for some of the more common examples.
- Antihistamines in tablet or liquid form such as Loratadine, Telfast, Claratyne and Zyrtec etc.
- Corticosteroid nasal sprays such as Flixonase
- Nasal decongestants designed for short term use such as Beconase and Sinex.
- Eye drops such as Livostin and Lomide
Products that contain a combination of these medications are also available as well as other forms and brands of these medicines.
Please note; this post is intended for general information only, please see a medical professional for advice and assistance with diagnosis and treatment of allergies and hay fever.