For hay fever sufferers, the excitement of spring is often tinged with worry, because as each flower blooms, those dreaded symptoms - namely sneezes, a runny nose and itchy eyes - start to take over.
This year, symptoms are set to start as early as mid-April, according to Beverley Adams Groom, from the Institute of Science and Environment at the University of Worcester. She explains: “We have some milder weather forecast which will help to stretch the birch tree catkins, so this should allow the start [of hay fever season] to occur in the second week of April.”
She adds that birch pollen is expected mid to late April, while oak pollen is expected in May and grass pollen in June and early July.
To top that off, people living in cities are at risk of even worse symptoms thanks to the combined effect of high air pollution and pollen. A survey by Boots, which dubs the issue ‘pollenution’, found 89% of people don’t realise their hay fever symptoms can actually be worse in the city than in the countryside. It estimates that London, Cardiff, Birmingham, Leeds and Glasgow will be worst affected.
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.
While it’s often regarded as a trivial problem, studies have shown that hay fever severely affects quality of life: it disturbs sleep, causes people to miss work, and can impair concentration and the ability to carry out tasks.
There’s no escaping pollen, but there are ways to prepare for hay fever season. As the weather warms, Boots pharmacist Angela Chalmers recommends showering every night before bed “to help wash any stray pollen from your hair and skin, which could keep you up sneezing in the night”.
When you wake up in the morning and get dressed and ready for work, she advises smearing a small amount of petroleum jelly or a nasal barrier balm under your nose, as it can help to trap some of the pollen.
Wherever you go, make sure you keep your sunglasses on-hand so you can prevent pollen from getting in your eyes. Mascara-wearers might want to ditch the stuff completely or buy a waterproof version to avoid panda eyes.
At home, make sure you keep your windows closed in the morning and evening when pollen counts are highest. Groom says tree pollen tends to peak in early afternoon, while grass tends to be worse in the morning before 11am and again in the late afternoon and early evening from about 4.30pm.
Having the windows open later in the day could also be scuppering your chances of a good night’s sleep. Chalmers explains: “64% of people with hay fever also suffer from the effects of what Boots UK experts have dubbed ‘Insneezia’ - the insomnia-esque effects of hay fever symptoms at night.
“Poor quality of sleep can leave them unable to fully enjoy the summer months. Towards the end of the day, the temperature drops causing the pollen that has risen in the atmosphere during the day to fall back to the ground. This explains why hay fever sufferers may experience a worsening of symptoms at night which can impact how they feel the next day.”
If you’ve done a load of washing, dry it inside to prevent pollen sticking and infiltrating everything from your towels to your bedding to your smalls. Speaking of clothes, when you arrive home make sure you strip off and get changed right away so you’re not traipsing pollen around your house.
Lastly, cut down on alcohol. “Whilst it might be tempting to enjoy a drink on a warm, summer evening, alcohol can worsen the symptoms of hay fever,” says Chalmers. “So maybe try to avoid on the days when your symptoms feel particularly bad.”