Hay Fever - The Facts

The Facts

Why hayfever is important

Hayfever affects 15 to 20 % of the population in Britain, where it is mainly caused by grass pollen. In other countries other pollens cause major 'hayfever' as well; ragweed in the USA, birch tree pollen in Scandinavia, and cedar pollen in Japan, for example.

Regarded as trivial by the ignorant, hayfever varies from mild forms which are indeed trivial to a severity which is crippling during the season. Sufferers may be unable to work or drive, and we know that school and exam performance is worse in young people who have untreated hayfever. Out-of-date treatments still widely used relieve the symptoms but produce drowsiness which affects driving and exam or academic performance badly.

Good modern treatment, which should be available to anyone with bad hayfever, helps nearly everyone so much that life during the hayfever season becomes normal again. A very few people have such bad hayfever that ordinary treatments are not enough. But there are other treatments, and no-one needs to be disabled by hayfever.

A specialist in allergy should be able to help if you still have bad hayfever after your family doctor has tried all the treatments there seem to be.

Hayfever is seasonal

The main hayfever season in central Britain starts in the first half of June and continues to mid-July or occasionally early August, though there is grass pollen in the atmosphere before and especially after this.

The dates are about a week earlier in the south of England, and one or two weeks later in Scotland.

The grass pollen season in Leicester.
pollen counts as particles per cubic metre of air.
Data from a number of years give an idea of when the main grass pollen season can be expected.

Travelling Find out about hayfever seasons worldwide

The The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) publishes a report from the National Allergy Bureau in the USA (Telephone 1 - 800 - polLEN), "pollen and Spores Around the World", which describes seasonal patterns worldwide, with individual sections on different countries and a lot of information on different parts of the United States. Contact either organisation for a copy if you live in the USA and need this information, for example to plan travel timing or medication.

How common are hayfever and allergic rhinitis in different countries

Countries differ remarkably in how common these illnesses are. The chart shows the results of recent surveys.

Hayfever can cause:

  • Nose symptoms:
    • Sneezing
    • Runny nose
    • Blocked nose
    • Itching in the nose, throat, and deep in the ears
    • Headache due to sinusitis caused by swelling in the nose
  • Eye symptoms:
    • Watering
    • Redness
    • Itching
    • Gritty feeling in the eyes
    • Swelling of the whites of the eyes
  • Chest symptoms:
    • Wheezing or a feeling of tightness in the chest, or frank asthma. Really these are symptoms of asthma, and should simply be treated as such.

Hayfever interferes with work and study

The peak of the grass pollen season can coincide with exams at schools and university, and there is no doubt that hayfever can affect exam results.

Obviously hayfever affects driving and other demanding tasks.

Hayfever interferes with the work of people in the public eye, from the receptionist to the head of the organisation, by interfering with their interaction with the public and others.

Hayfever causes loss of working days.

Older medicines for hayfever can make you sleepy, and even in people who don't feel sleepy or tired when they take them have a dangerous effect on driving and a bad effect on school work and other tasks.

There are effective and safe treatments for hayfever

One way or another, you should be able to control your hayfever well enough to allow you to do the job you need to do and to do it just as well as if you did not have hayfever.

If your hayfever is slight you may not really need any treatment. If it is a bit more severe, one kind of treatment, which you may be able to buy without a prescription, may be all you need.

But some people can only get their hayfever under good enough control with a combination of treatments, or with the help of unusual treatments.

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