The arrival of spring and warm weather means the start of allergic reactions for people suffering from the infamous "hay fever." What causes this overreaction of the immune system? What situations should be avoided in order to prevent it and how can symptoms be treated?
What is "hay fever"?
Hay fever, also known as seasonal allergic rhinitis, occurs in periods of blooming and manifests itself mainly by an inflammation of the nasal passages. The immune system is considered to be "hypersensitive" in this case, as it reacts disproportionately to the allergen (pollen), which it views as a threat. When this perceived enemy enters into contact with the eyes or the repiratory tract of the allergic individual, it provokes a number of reactions, such as sneezing, a runny nose, a sensation of having a blocked nose and also irritation of the eyes. If these symptoms are long-lasting, they can lead to fatigue, irritability and insomnia.
The most effective ways to prevent symptoms
The problem with seasonal allergies is that they appear just as we start thinking of enjoying more time outdoors. While there is no need to deprive yourself of this enjoyment, here is some useful advice to avoid excessive contact with the allergen:
- Pollen is present in lower quantities in the morning and after rainfall, so it is preferable to spend time outdoors at these times. For this reason, it is also preferable to let air into the room early in the morning rather than during the rest of the day.
- Avoid activities which lead to excessive exposure, such as mowing the lawn or taking pic-nics in the forest.
- Dry clothes indoors, as pollen can settle on them outside.
- Taking a shower after getting home is a good way to remove all traces of pollen, including from your hair.
- Choose holiday destinations carefully. According to the season, some locations might be very unsuitable, depending on the individual's sensitivity. The Réseau National de Surveillance Aérobiologique (National Aerobiological Monitoring Network) regularly publishes pollen forecasts on its website to inform you about the allergy risk in various regions.
Even with the most determined efforts, it is next to impossible to avoid crossing paths with pollen at some point. An allergist is a specialist in identifying the precise causes of an allergy and can prescribe treatment adapted to each individual:
- Antihistamines help alleviate symptoms. They block the production of histamine, the substance which is released in repsonse to the allergen and causes inflammation.
- Non-prescription homeopathic remedies can be used as an additional treatment. They help with prevention and can work in serious cases.
- Decongestants, another additional treatment, can be found in the form of tablets, syrups and nasal sprays .
- Nasal corticosteroids are generally recommended when antihistamines don't provide relief. This is an anti-inflammatory medicine which is administered using an inhaler. Oral corticosteroids are only used for severe symptoms and over short periods.
If symptoms persist in spite of the treatments above, it becomes necessary to undergo desensitisation or immunotherapy. It is a long-term process, lasting between 3 and 5 years, but one which gives clear results in many cases. The treatment involves injection or oral administration of increasing doses of the allergenic substance in order to accustom the body gradually to contact with it.