Spring is in the air!

May 1, 2020

This Spring is rather different than previous ones, in many different ways. The majority of people are stuck at home, schools are closed and we are all adjusting to a new way of doing everyday tasks. Positives have included less pollution, families spending more time together and many are appreciating the simple things in life.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the hay fever season and pollen levels are set to be high and many sufferers are already experiencing symptoms as tree pollens have been out since early April. What is worrying many sufferers is how do they know if it is hay fever or is it COVID-19. For most people that have hay fever, they will know their symptoms, but every year there are new cases, so it is goodto know the difference.

Our lives have changed a lot right now, one thing that hasn’t changed is the hay fever season.

The Royal College of GPshas warned that people my get confused and worried over their symptoms of allergic rhinitis (hay fever) especially as some symptoms are similar to the coronavirus.

Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said, ‘There are some important characteristics of hay fever that could help patients distinguish between it and COVID-19. Allergy symptoms tend to be milder and fluctuate depending on the time of day as pollen levels are often higher in the afternoon and evening. Similarly, wet weather may lead to patients experiencing milder symptoms.’

Regular hay fever sufferers will know what the symptoms are like, occasional sufferers might be confusing symptoms and think they have something else.

Symptoms of hay fever include: a runny or blocked nose, sneezing, sore and watering eyes and sometimes, but not always, a cough.

If there is a significant change in the symptoms, or more importantly new symptoms of a high temperature and a new persistent cough, you should seek the advice of NHS 111 and self-isolate at least until you have done so.

Hay fever can vary from being annoyed that you keep sneezing to making it almost impossible to go outside or even have your windows open. Taking antihistamines, whilst being a popular choice for many, can cause drowsiness. The good news is that there are a number of ways and natural options that can help you support your system and maybe reduce your hay fever experience.

Whilst at the moment, we are encouraged to only go out for shopping, emergencies or to exercise once a day, if you react badly to pollens, even a short trip can have added misery. The Met Office produce a regional pollen forecast, it can be useful in helping you plan your days and stay inside when it pollen levels are particularly high.

A diet that includes a high intake of fresh fruit and veg can provide a valuable source of nutrients.

Simple steps such as keeping doors and windows closed or covered can help reduce the amount of pollen that gets into the home, especially on windy days. Wearing sunglasses when you go out not protects your eyes from becoming irritated, but also hides the irritation if you feel you want to. For irritated eyes, simple things like flannel wrung out in cold water or a couple of slices of cucumber applied to the eyes, can help give some soothing, short term relief.

If you keep your bedroom windows open during the day, cover the bed and pillows with a large sheet or similar. In the evening, carefully fold it inwards without shaking it and remove it. This helps protect your bedding from pollen landing on it during the day. If you are really sensitive to pollens, it is better to get someone to do this for you if possible.

Allergy UK is another good source of information on ideas and solutions that might help your hay fever. They have a vast array of fact sheets that can be downloaded. There is also plenty of information if your allergy is dust, pert hair and moulds, rather than simply pollen.

Everything seems to come back to a healthy diet, but once again a good varied diet with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables will underpin your overall wellbeing. Eating a variety of coloured fruits and veg can give you a wide range of antioxidant compounds and these are important for lung and respiratory system health. Although there have not been a lot of studies specifically on hay fever, research suggests that a higher intake of fruit and veg should be recommended.

There are certain foods that may be best avoided as they are high in histamine and may make symptoms worse. These include, alcohol, caffeine, smoked meat and some nuts including walnuts and cashews. Milk based products can be high in histamine and may be mucous forming and lead to added congestion.

Herbal teas can help you stay hydrated, which is important for healthy mucous membranes—if your nasal passages are in good health, you can deal with pollens better—teas such as nettle have also traditionally been used to help with hay fever and congestion thanks to the natural anti-inflammatory properties of the nettle plant.

Herbal teas are a great way of keeping hydrated and reducing your caffeine intake.

Vitamin C is needed for proper functioning of the immune system and is also a natural antihistamine. You can find vitamin C in fresh fruits and vegetables, be careful not to overcook them, or you can take a supplement. A vitamin C supplement can also provide bioflavonoids, compounds that are naturally present in vitamin C rich foods and are important antioxidants in their own right.

Quercetin is a bioflavonoid that you can often find as a stand alone supplement, research suggests that it can be helpful for respiratory health including allergic rhinitis (hay fever). It can be a useful supplement to add to your regime, particularly if you already take vitamin C.

We are currently be advised by Public Health England to increase our vitamin D supplementation as we are spending less time outside. Vitamin D is also needed for proper functioning of the immune system as well as normal bone growth. Vitamin D drops can be useful for anyone that doesn’t like taking tablets or for getting children to take it.

When you are taking supplements and adjusting your diet as part of a healthy lifestyle, it can be useful to build a good nutritional foundation with a broad-spectrum multivitamin and mineral supplement. This will provide a wide range of nutrients including other antioxidants such as selenium and also zinc which is needed for proper immune function too. A multi formulation tops up what might be missing in your diet, it is a useful addition to your wellness programme, not a replacement for a healthy diet.

Eat well, stay hydrated, keep an eye on the daily pollen forecast, stay indoors on windy days and don’t forget your supplements. These can be simple and achievable ways to help you cope with your hay fever and help you enjoy the summer however we have to spend it.

Keeping an eye on the daily pollen forecast can help you plan your days and minimise outside activity on high pollen days.

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