Anyone who suffers from hay fever will know that, as summer temperatures rise, so does the likelihood of those bothersome symptoms – a runny nose, sneezing and itchy eyes.
In South Africa, the period between September and December is when the pollen count is at its highest. It is during this time that hay fever symptoms are most severe.
Don’t let this common problem dampen your spirits this summer. Focus, instead, on natural ways of beating hay fever niggles.
Read: Is it a cold, flu, sinusitis or hay fever?
Hay fever – the what, when and how
Hay fever (allergic rhinitis) is a nasal allergy that’s usually triggered by allergens like pollen from trees, grasses and weeds, dust mites, mould spores and pet dander.
When you have a sensitised immune system, it sometimes wrongly identifies a harmless airborne particle like pollen or dust as a threat to the body.
The immune system produces immunoglobulin E, an antibody that attacks the substance before releasing a chemical called histamine. This is what causes hay fever symptoms.
While some people experience seasonal hay fever during spring or summer, others may have symptoms throughout the year. Pollen from trees, grass and weeds are common seasonal hay fever triggers during certain months of the year, while mould and fungal spores are, for example, prolific in warm weather.
The severity of hay fever can also vary from year to year, depending on pollen counts and other factors, according to Dr Kelly Stone from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. She adds that once people develop the allergic sensitisation involved in hay fever, it will be present throughout their lives.
Read: Are your allergies out of control?
Beat hay fever, naturally
While there’s no cure for hay fever, there are smart ways of minimising your misery.
Step 1. Avoid symptom-triggering situations
Try to avoid situations where your exposure to allergens may be high. The following tips will help:
- Find out about pollen counts in the area where you live. A useful guide is the Weatherzone Pollen Index, which measures the potential for pollen to trigger allergic reactions in susceptible people. This resource allows you to select your location for a four-day pollen forecast.
- If your hay fever tends to occur during certain months, try to limit the time you spend outdoors, especially at dawn or dusk.
- If you love the outdoors, try to get outside directly after an afternoon rain shower. Rain tends to wash pollen out of the air.
- Avoid activities like grass mowing and raking leaves, steer clear of grassy areas on high pollen count days, and wait until pollen counts are low before doing any gardening.
- Don’t hang your clothing or bed linen outside to dry when there’s a high pollen count.
- Minimise pollen build-up that might have gathered on your body and hair during the day by showering at night and changing into fresh clothes.
- Remove pollen and soothe your eyes by regularly splashing them with cold water. Smearing petroleum jelly around the inside edges of the nostrils helps to stop pollen from irritating the nose.
- If you’re outdoors, wear wrap-around glasses to protect your eyes from pollen and wear a hat with a brim. This stops pollen from getting on your hair and falling down onto your face.
Read: Tree and grass pollens in South Africa
Step 2. Clean indoor air
Try and keep your indoor area free of allergy triggers. One good way is to install air filters in your air conditioning and heater systems. These filters can remove up to 95% of allergen particles from indoor air.
A dehumidifier is helpful to reduce humidity indoors. It also helps to keep doors and windows shut when outdoor pollen counts are high.
Step 3. Cut down on pet time
Yes, your beloved cat or dog may make your condition worse. That’s because pet dander (dead skin flakes) may trigger hay fever reactions.
Try to keep pets outside as this will keep their dander away from you. It will also reduce the chances of them bringing pollen in from outside. If it’s a high pollen count day, and your pet comes indoors, smooth its fur down with a damp cloth or give it a bath once a week. Your pet probably won’t mind, especially if it’s hot outside.
If you can’t keep your pet outdoors, set aside a specific area in the house for your dog or cat and make sure to keep it out of the bedroom and off the furniture. It’s also best to remove any deep pile carpets or loose rugs that collect dust mites and dander.
Read: The top 10 dog breeds for allergy sufferers
Step 4. Clean and declutter your home
Weekly cleaning can do wonders to rid your home of dust mites and pet dander. A few tips:
- Make sure your vacuum cleaner has a good filter, and clean or replace it regularly.
- Wash dishes and empty refuse bins every day to ward off allergy-inducing bugs like cockroaches.
- Regularly wash sheets in hot instead of cold water, as this kills dust mites.
- Remove old carpets, rugs, wall-coverings and upholstered furniture, if you can. House dust mites frequently flourish here.
- Also try to reduce clutter that collects dust. This means keeping ornaments and bric-a-brac to the minimum.
- Keep a bedspread on your bed during the day and remove it at night when you go to bed.
Step 5. Minimise moulds
If your hay fever is triggered by moulds, make sure to minimise them in your home. Moulds flourish in humid indoor areas like bathrooms and kitchens, producing air-borne spores that may cause allergies.
Get out the bleach and vigorously scrub all those showers, walls and other warm, humid household spots. Keep these areas well ventilated to reduce mould contact.
Outside places containing dead leaves, dead plants and mulch are ideal breeding grounds for mould, so get someone to remove them on a regular basis.
Read: Fight the common mould allergy
Step 6. Make it easy for your nose
Some people find that sweet-smelling flowers or other strong odours in the air like smoke make their hay fever worse. If this is your problem, allergists advise that you should try and steer clear of these allergen-triggering odours as much as possible.
For example, smoke can swell nasal passageways, irritate the nose and cause congestion. If you already have a congested nose, smoke will simply make it worse. Other smells that may cause allergic reactions include strong smelling perfumes, hair sprays and household cleaners.
Preventing allergic reactions
A dust mite-free home
A sneeze could be deadly
Image: Young woman sneezing from Shutterstock
Sources: Nine MSN; My Hayfever; Huffington Post UK; Asthma Australia; Encognitive; NSW government; Research, University of Melbourne. Symptomatic treatment of persistent allergic rhinitis. MJA 2007; 187 (6): 337-341).