Stop hay fever in its tracks with some simple lifestyle changes.
Most people in the UK look forward to the lighter evenings and warmer days of spring and early summer. However, for millions of people in the UK the changing season means something else entirely: hay fever. Hay fever is a common allergic reaction to pollen which affects up to one in four people. The symptoms of hay fever include sneezing, a runny nose and itchy eyes, and they can range from mild irritation to severe and debilitating effects. Hay fever can also aggravate breathing problems in people who have asthma1.
What causes hay fever?
Around a quarter of hay fever sufferers are allergic to tree pollen, which is released during spring. Allergy to grass pollen, which is released at the end of spring and in early summer, is much more common and affects around 95% of people with hay fever. Weed pollen can also trigger hay fever symptoms in some people, and this is released in late autumn2.
When a person who has hay fever comes into contact with pollen, the cells in the mouth, nose, eyes and throat are irritated. The immune system wrongly perceives the pollen as an attacking virus and releases chemicals, including histamine. It’s these chemicals which cause the symptoms of hay fever3.
Managing hay fever symptoms
There are various treatments available to reduce the severity of hay fever symptoms. These include antihistamines, anti-inflammatory corticosteroid nasal sprays and corticosteroid tablets. There are also lifestyle changes you can make that may ease your symptoms3.
1. Eat a healthy diet
Research suggests that people who eat a healthy diet experience milder hay fever symptoms. Omega-3 and 6 fatty acids are anti-inflammatories and can help to reduce the severity of symptoms. Foods rich in these good fats include oily fish, nuts and seeds. Be aware that some healthy foods actually seem to make hay fever worse though – these include apples, tomatoes, bananas, melons and celery4
2. Reduce your alcohol intake
Unfortunately the prosecco and Pimm’s flowing at summer picnics and BBQs could be making your hay fever symptoms worse. Beer, wine and spirits contain histamine which is the chemical that causes the sneezing, runny nose and itchy eyes associated with hay fever. This means that drinking alcohol makes you more sensitive to pollen. The well-known dehydrating effects of alcohol can also make the symptoms feel worse.
3. Get plenty of sleep
A survey of over 2,000 hay fever sufferers found that people who got a good night’s sleep were less likely to experience severe symptoms. Of people who had five hours’ sleep or less, 21% reported severe hay fever symptoms. In comparison just 13% of those who had at least seven hours’ sleep reported severe symptoms.
4. Get some exercise
In the same study, taking regular exercise was found to be helpful in reducing the severity of hay fever symptoms - people with hay fever who exercised most reporting the mildest symptoms. Aim to do 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise each week, such as cycling or fast walking. Stick to the late morning or afternoon when the pollen levels are lowest. If your symptoms are severe, consider indoor exercise such as swimming.
5. Reduce your stress levels
The results of the survey also show a clear link between stress levels and the severity of hay fever symptoms. Of the hay fever sufferers surveyed, around 70% of people who reported high stress levels also rated their hay fever symptoms as severe or debilitating. Exercise is a good way to manage stress, making it particularly good for controlling hay fever4.
6. Consider immunotherapy
If your hay fever symptoms are severe and you don’t feel able to manage them with over-the-counter medications and lifestyle changes, you could try allergen immunotherapy. This works by reprogramming your immune system not to react to pollen, rather than just suppressing the symptoms.
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