If you had a pound for every time you’d heard that this season, you’d be rich, right? If you're one of the 10 million people in England alone who suffer from hay fever, then you’ll know how frustrating it can be.
Have you seen the meme that’s doing the rounds at the moment? The one about spending a year avoiding a deadly virus yet being completely floored by pollen? Hay fever is a very real concern for an increasing number of us.
In this article
Seasonal allergic rhinitis, to give hay fever its proper name, is one of the most common allergic conditions and is caused by an allergy to pollen. It can affect you as a child and continue with you for the rest of your life, or you may grow out of it. Surprisingly, it’s also entirely possible to develop hay fever for the first time as an adult (I certainly have).
Whenever you develop it, however it affects you, it's annoying and can even affect your quality of life. But it can also affect your skin.
So let’s look at what hay fever is, how it can affect your skin and how you might be able to manage its symptoms.
What is Hay Fever and What Are the Symptoms?
Hay fever is an allergy to grass, weed or tree pollen. When the body encounters something that we’re allergic to (called an allergen), it mistakenly believes it to be a threat and releases a substance called Immunoglobulin E, or IgE, specific to the allergen.
When IgE circulates around the body, the body then releases a chemical called histamine. And it’s histamine that causes the miserable symptoms of hay fever - sneezing, a runny, yet stuffy nose, watery eyes and an itchy throat. (Hence why we take ‘anti’-histamines to help combat hay fever, as they work by suppressing the effects of histamine.)
Hay fever usually causes symptoms during the spring and summer months, when plants release their pollen.
But since all grasses, weeds and trees have different types of pollen, you may find yourself fine in certain areas without the offending plant growing nearby, or symptom free during particular parts of the season when they’re not releasing pollen.
This is because the ‘pollen calendar’ is different for different kinds of plants. As a general rule, tree pollen is released into the air in the spring, grass pollen at the end of the spring and the start of summer and weed pollen in the late autumn.
Fun fact - did you know that, as a general rule, brightly coloured flowers tend not to cause hay fever symptoms? Flowers with bright petals and sweet scents are usually pollinated by bees and other pollinating insects as they move from flower to flower collecting nectar.
This means that their pollen is larger and stickier, so that it can stick to the furry little bodies of these natural pollinators. Therefore, it doesn’t travel in the air on the wind, like the pollen from certain grasses, weeds and trees do.
These wind pollinated plants rely on the wind for pollination, and as a result, have light, dusty pollen. Which is perfect for getting up our noses and in our airways, causing hay fever symptoms!
This might mean that you can safely have cut flowers in your house without causing you problems. Just watch out for lilies that seem to irritate hay fever sufferers more than flowers such as carnations (take it back to the old school!) and orchids.
How Does Hay Fever Affect the Skin?
The most well known symptoms associated with hay fever are the ones that affect the eyes and nose - causing them both to stream and feel irritated and uncomfortable.
But hay fever also impacts the skin of many sufferers. This is again down to the effects of IgE and histamine, but rather than because an allergen has been breathed in, it’s because it’s come into contact with the skin. This is called allergic contact dermatitis and can often go hand in hand with hay fever.
This might be because you’ve been doing some gardening, walking through long grass or simply relaxing outside in air that’s full of pollen.
This then generally causes rashes and itchy skin, that may become inflamed and cause the skin to break, weep and bleed. It can also cause other itchy skin conditions such as eczema to become worse and flare up.
As well as this, hay fever can cause an indirect impact on the skin, with the skin around the eyes and nose becoming red and sore, from constant wiping and blowing.
How Can I Help to Minimise the Impact of Hay Fever on My Skin?
Managing the symptoms of hay fever can be challenging, as we can all react differently - and there is no cure. But there are general things we can do to help minimise the wider symptoms of hay fever, as well as those that affect the skin.
Here’s some tips for you to try that you may benefit from...
As we touched on above, antihistamines (usually in the form of tablets, but also available as nasal sprays and eye drops) can be extremely useful for calming down all of the annoying symptoms of hay fever.
They can also help to calm down allergic skin rashes and irritation, and are available as creams either on prescription from your GP or over the counter at your local pharmacy.
Try the Anti-Hay Fever Diet
There are some foods worth avoiding if you have hay fever as they can make your symptoms worse, for various different reasons.
Perhaps the worst offender is dairy. Dairy products are mucus forming, which means that they can increase the amount of fluid produced by your nose, ears and eyes. Thankful, there are now plenty of decent dairy alternatives.
What and refined sugars can also make hay fever worse as they can make allergies worse and cause the body to produce more histamine respectively.
There are also foods that can help to reduce histamine levels by blocking the receptors that allow the immune system to react to allergens. These include garlic and onions so go ahead with those recipes that contain these two tasty delights and add as much as you please!
High antioxidant foods such as blueberries, carrots and broccoli will help to support a healthy, strong immune system, which is always a bonus. There are also suggestions that locally produced honey can help alleviate hay fever symptoms by helping your body get used to local pollen so that it doesn’t react as strongly to them.
Check Weather Apps and Take Extra Precautions on Those Days
Most weather apps and websites (and local, regional news bulletins) have a pollen count prediction for the day. If you can, on the days when pollen levels are expected to be high or very high, plan to stay indoors.
This isn't always easy due to work and other commitments, so where possible, aim to be outside when pollen levels are at their lowest. This is usually in the morning when the air is cooler and damp.
You can also avoid high pollen counts by avoiding areas with freshly mown grass and by keeping the windows in your home and vehicle closed.
Wraparound style sunglasses can be helpful in protecting your eyes outside, and using a barrier such as Vaseline around your nostrils can be helpful for trapping pollen before it reaches your airways.
Wash Clothes and Bedding Regularly
Pollen is a pesky little substance and can settle and build up on soft furnishings and carpets. You can reduce levels at home by sweeping, vacuuming and dusting regularly.
Dusty pollen can also be brought inside on your clothing. If you've been outside, take as many outer clothes off as possible outside, and the rest, remove them well away from your bedroom or living area to avoid shaking pollen off into these areas.
Wash all clothing and bedding regularly to help minimise the pollen particles inside your home. If you suffer in general with allergies, it can be helpful to use natural, unscented or sensitive washing powders and liquids that can cause fewer allergic reactions.
Also, avoid drying clothing and linens outside so that they don’t pick up pollen.
Use Soft Face Tissues
Anything you can do to minimise the effects of sniffing, wiping and blowing will be helpful. I once knew someone who spent his days leaning over whilst working on underground cables outside, his nose constantly dripping. So he also spent his days with rolled up blue roll inside each nostril. That is, of course, up to you.
Using the softest tissues you can find will help, there are some available that are infused with aloe vera and softening balms. Try not to use kitchen roll or toilet roll (or industrial blue roll), as these tend to be rougher on the skin.
Soothing Your Skin with the Right Skincare Products
Looking after your skin isn’t always a walk in the park. Especially if a walk in the park triggers annoying hay fever symptoms.
But giving it the best care will help to strengthen its natural defences. The Sönd skincare range has been developed with stressed out, non conformist skin in mind and will help to keep the skin you’re in, happy.
So check us out and see how we can benefit you! Bless you.
This article is not meant to treat or diagnose. Please visit your doctor for advice about any health concerns you may have.