Six ways to reduce hay fever this spring

The pollen counts for 2017 are predicted to be milder than the hectic conditions of 2016, but it is nonetheless important for allergy-sufferers to stay vigilant. If you suffer from allergic rhinitis (hay fever) or asthma, pollen from grasses, weeds or trees can result in sneezing, watery eyes, a running nose and an itchy throat. Here’s how to help reduce those nasty symptoms!

How to reduce pollen exposure
Ultimately, the best thing to do if you suffer from hay fever is to avoid pollen as much as possible, especially if it could lead to a more serious asthma attack. To do this, we suggest:

  1. Try to stay indoors during and after thunderstorms.
  2. Keep car windows closed and use recirculated air when pollen levels are high. Car air filters will also help.
  3. Consider planting a low allergen garden around the home.
  4. Check plants in your garden for those that could be aggravating asthma/allergies.
  5. Wear glasses to keep pollen out of your eyes.
  6. Avoid mowing lawns or wear a mask if it is unavoidable. 

Associate Professor Sheryl van Nunen from the Department of Clinical Immunology and Allergy at Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney, also advises that if you’re asthmatic, managing an allergy via health services is especially important. 

She suggests having your lungs checked by your GP to make sure you’re as healthy as possible, and letting them know if you think pollen, thunderstorms or weather changes affect your asthma.

Professor van Nunen also highlights the importance of using your preventer medication every day, if prescribed, even when you are feeling well. You should also ensure you have an up-to-date written asthma action plan from your GP so you know what to do if your asthma flares up.

Allergen avoidance doesn’t cure asthma, but by reducing your exposure to allergen triggers you may improve your asthma control and help make symptoms easier to manage - for more information and tips visit the National Asthma Council Australia

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The highest pollen count is often between 5am and 10am, so limiting your outside exposure during those times can be extremely helpful 

Finally, it is important to keep updated on information. Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Canberra all have their own pollen monitoring services set up by AusPollen and run by various university research departments.

The Sydney service began counting on 1 September, the Melbourne and Canberra services will begin on 1 October and the Brisbane service on 1 November.

If you are going to be out in nature for the day, check online to see whether the pollen count forecast will be high for that day and if so, take appropriate precautions. For added convenience, there are also mobile apps to easily find this data each day.

Weather impacts on hay fever season
According to Associate Professor Ed Newbigin from the University of Melbourne and coordinator of the Melbourne pollen count at AusPollen, the start of hay fever season varies according to location, and from one year to another.

“Typically European trees like birch and elm pollinate at the end of winter and beginning of spring and grasses start pollinating a month or two later. But with climate change causing milder winters in southern Australia and wet season changes in the north we expect to see differences in when plants flower as well as where plants grow.”

According to the Bureau of Meteorology, rainfall has been low throughout autumn and winter, with winter rainfall ranking as the ninth-lowest on record. This low precipitation means that grasses and trees are less likely to bloom and will generate less pollen, or at the very least will bloom later in the year.

As well as affecting the length and duration of the pollen season, climate change has the potential to impact people with asthma and allergies by causing more extreme weather events like thunderstorms.

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Broken down allergenic particles from thundertorms can easily be inhaled into the lungs, triggering asthma attacks

Stormy winds and moisture can cause the pollen to rupture into smaller particles, which can be inhaled deeper into the lungs. The situation is exacerbated when grass pollen levels are high just before a thunderstorm.

This phenomenon, known as ‘thunderstorm asthma’, caused the deaths of 9 people in Victoria in November 2016. A report prepared by the Inspector-General for Emergency Management found that during the thunderstorm event of 21 November, Ambulance Victoria received the largest number of calls within the shortest period in the state’s history. 

This event highlights some of the more serious consequences that allergens can have beyond just a runny nose.

Do you struggle with hay fever or asthma during the spring months?

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