This week Jambo Africa Online’s resident Rhodes university graduate pharmacist, BOITUMELO NTSOANE, gives advice on allergies and hay fevers.

It is once again that time of the month where you’ve lost count of the number of times you have sneezed or that irritating feeling you get when you walk through the garden. Well you might be suffering from an allergy or hay fever which is also known as seasonal allergies.

What is Hay fever?

“Hay fever” is a misleading term since the cause of this problem is not always hay. Allergic rhinitis is usually the correct term to use. Rhinitis means “inflammation of the nose” This is a type of allergic reaction that occurs when you come into contact with certain allergens such as a furry cat or pollen. Allergic rhinitis occurs seasonally and also sometimes year-round. When is occurs throughout the year it is called perennial allergic rhinitis and when it occurs during a specific season it is called seasonal allergic rhinitis.

Symptoms of hay fever can also mimic the symptoms of chronic colds and these include:

  • A stuffy or runny rose
  • Itchy and watery eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Puffy red eyes
  • Breathing through the mouth or wheezing
  • Coughing and throat irritation can also be common
  • Loss of the sense of smell
  • Fatigue

These allergic reactions usually interfere with a person’s quality of life and health. This can be very much frustrating especially if you have a busy life to keep up with.

Causes of hay fever usually arise when one gets into contact with:

  • Proteins from plants called pollen
  • Dust mites
  • Skin shed by cats
  • Fur from dogs and cats

Why do we then experience such allergic reactions?

When an allergen (substance that causes an allergic reaction) gains access to our body our immune system usually wants to keep it out. It does this by calling upon antibodies in order to be able to fight these invading allergic substances.

The following will increase your risk of developing hay fever:

  • Living or working in an area where you are exposed to allergens such as a pet shop
  • Having eczema
  • Having other allergies or asthma
  • Having a blood relative that is also suffering from asthma

Problem associated with hay fever

  • Poor sleep because the symptoms can keep you awake and also make it hard for you to stay asleep. This will result in fatigue and malaise.
  • In children hay fever can also lead to an ear infection called otitis media
  • Prolonged sinus congestion due to hat fever can increase your susceptibility to sinusitis
  • Hay fever can interfere with your enjoyment of activities and cause you to be less productive
  • Hay fever can cause worsening of asthma symptoms because it presents with coughing and wheezing

Is Hay fever contagious?

No, allergic reactions are not contagious but some symptoms are confused with those of a common cold, which can then be spread from person to person.

Prevention of Hay Fever

There is no possible way to avoid getting hay fever. Once you have contracted hay fever try by all means to avoid the allergens.

Lifestyle and home remedies that can help alleviate hay fever:

It is not possible to completely avoid allergens but you can reduce your symptoms by limiting your exposure to them.

For pollen or moulds you need to ensure the following:

  • Close doors and windows during pollen season
  • Avoid hanging laundry outside because sometimes the pollen can stick to the laundry
  • Use air conditioning in your car
  • Stay indoors on dry, windy days
  • Avoid mowing the lawn or raking leaves
  • Wear a dust mask when cleaning the house or when you do your gardening

For dust mites you can do the following:

  • Use allergy-proof covers on mattresses and pillows
  • Wash sheets in water that is about 54 degrees Celsius
  • Vacuum carpets weekly and use a vacuum that has a HEPA filter
  • Consider removing carpets especially in your bedroom

Drug Treatment of Hay fever

It is the best choice to avoid or limit your exposure to the substances that trigger your allergic reaction.

Nasal corticosteroids: These sprays can help prevent and treat nasal inflammation, nasal itching and runny nose.

Antihistamines: These are available as pills, nasal sprays and also eye drops. This type of medication can help with the itching, runny nose and also sneezing. They work by blocking histamine, which is a chemical in your body that causes the allergic reaction.

Decongestants: These are available without a prescription from the pharmacy. However they have several side effects which include insomnia and irritability. Do not use decongestants for more than two – three days a time because it can worsen the symptoms when continuously used. This is known as rebound congestion.

Now that we have equipped ourselves with such knowledge it is now our battle to win against the weird allergens that cause so much discomfort in our lives.