While many of us basked in the glory of ditching our coats and cranking out the barbecues this past week, a good portion of the population have been dealing with less positive news: their hay fever symptoms hitting with full force in February.
Plagued by sneezing fits and itchy eyes, people took to Twitter to do what Brits do best: have a moan and ask what on earth was happening. Hay fever in February? Is that even physically possible?
Well, it turns out that the answer is yes. The Met Office confirmed to HuffPost UK that the last few weeks have been unseasonably mild with a lot of dry weather and this, combined with the mild winter, has “provided the perfect conditions for pollen production and release”.
Hay fever occurs when the body makes allergic antibodies to pollen. According to Allergy UK, exposure to pollen causes the release of chemicals from cells in the nasal passages, eyes or airways, resulting in inflammation and irritation to the lining of the eyes, nose and throat.
Tree pollen has already started being released, Met Office’s spokesperson said, particularly pollen from alder, elm and hazel trees. “There are very high levels of alder pollen which is causing many people to suffer with hay fever earlier than normal in the season,” the Met Office said.
“Alder and birch are related and, when levels are this high, even people who are allergic to birch pollen can have a reaction. We are expecting birch pollen to come into season around the third week of March.”
While it’s often treated as an incidental problem, studies have shown that hay fever can severely affect quality of life: it disturbs sleep, causes people to miss work, and can impair concentration and the ability to carry out tasks.
Holly Shaw, nurse advisor at Allergy UK, told HuffPost UK: “If people start to become symptomatic, they should start taking their medications early so they will be most effective when the pollen levels really peak. If they have them already that is great. Otherwise talk to a pharmacist who will be able to help.”
To get a feel for just how early hay fever season is starting, last year we were expecting symptoms to hit in mid-April. This year, some people are reporting them a whole two months earlier.
The bad news is that hay fever season won’t necessarily finish any earlier than normal, unless we get a particularly bad bout of weather.
“The rest of the pollen season will depend on the type of weather we get during spring and summer,” Met Office’s spokesperson said. “Overall the pollen season could feel like it has lasted longer, given it has started earlier.”