Pollen levels are set to soar across parts of England and Wales over the next week, which means hay fever sufferers are in for a tough time.
Experts are predicting that this year could see particularly high pollen counts because of recent rainfall followed by warm weather.
So what can be done to reduce hay fever symptoms?
One in five people in the UK is thought to suffer from hay fever, and the bad news is there’s no cure for it and you can’t prevent it.
You’ll know if you’re affected. It’s the itchy, watery eyes, sneezing, runny nose that don’t go away like a normal cold, often combined with headaches and tiredness.
After you’ve been to your pharmacist or GP for advice on the best treatments, such as antihistamine tablets, drops or sprays, here are some other tips to try.
Watch the clock
Certain times of the day have higher pollen levels. On a typical high count day – dry, warm and sunny – at this time of year, the first half of the morning and later in the afternoon until late evening are the times to avoid being outside.
Beverley Adams-Groom, pollen expert and forecaster from the University of Worcester, says pollen gets caught up in air currents and rises up away from nose level during the day.
If it’s hot until much later in the day, particularly in cities in the south of the UK, then the risk of high pollen levels descending could continue all night.
“When it’s very warm during the day, the pollen don’t come down until the middle of the night, giving people a terrible night,” she says.
Wash it off
Pollen is made up of fine, microscopic grains released into the air by grass, plants and trees. They are carried on the wind, easily inhaled by humans and pets, and they stick to everything.
So, it’s a good idea to wash it all off once you get home after being outside – by:
- washing your hair
- changing your clothes
For the same reason, you should avoid drying washing outdoors on a clothes line when the pollen count is high.
When is the pollen season?
- tree pollen – late March to mid-May
- grass pollen – mid-May to July
- weed pollen – end of June to September
The pollen count is the amount of pollen per cubic metre measured over 24 hours at various places across the UK, using a trap with sticky paper inside it.
A reading of between 50 and 150 grains of grass pollen is considered high – enough for hay fever symptoms to appear.
Get the vacuum out
There’s no excuse for not getting down to some housework if hay fever is an issue.
Vacuuming the house regularly and dusting with a damp cloth will help to prevent the pollen accumulating indoors and irritating your eyes and nose.
While you’re at it, keep windows and doors shut as much as possible.
Know your weather
Make sure to monitor the Met Office’s pollen forecast every day and for the five days to come so that you can stay indoors if possible when pollen counts are high.
Most people with hay fever are allergic to grass pollen, but there are about 30 different types of pollen that can cause problems throughout the year.
When it’s warm, humid and windy, the pollen count is higher. Rainfall decreases pollen concentration in the air, particularly if it rains heavily in the morning.
The amount of daylight also plays a role – plants and trees will produce less pollen when it’s cloudy.
The south of the UK is usually more badly affected by high pollen levels than other areas. For the next five days, the pollen count is forecast to be very high across England and Wales and low in Scotland and northern England.
The NHS website recommends:
- wraparound sunglasses to stop pollen from getting in the eyes
- putting Vaseline around the nostrils to trap pollen
- Don’t keep fresh flowers in the house
- Don’t smoke or be around people smoking, because that makes symptoms worse
- Don’t cut grass or walk on it
- Avoid alcohol – beer, wine and spirits contain histamine, the chemical that sets off allergy symptoms in the body
- Pets can carry pollen so don’t encourage them to come indoors (unless they belong to you)