Asthma and seasonal allergies: what to do?
Published 3 May 2022 • By Candice Salomé
Hay fever (or allergic rhinitis) is the term used to define an allergy that mainly causes symptoms in the nose and eyes during the pollen season of trees, grass and herbs.
This relatively minor allergy should not be neglected or underestimated because of its annual recurrence, which can impair quality of life and lead to complications such as asthma.
So what is hay fever, or allergic rhinitis? What does it have to do with asthma? How can you protect yourself from it?
We explain it all in our article!
Warm weather is finally here and with it comes the allergy season! If you suffer from allergies, it means that your body is sensitive to things that most people do not react to. So when you are near certain allergens, your body overreacts. Symptoms such as itching, watery eyes, wheezing, coughing or sneezing can occur.
In spring, some people can suffer from hay fever, also called seasonal allergic rhinitis.
What is hay fever, or allergic rhinitis?
Allergic rhinitis (hay fever) is the name given to symptoms that are provoked by allergens that we breathe in, such as pollen, grass, animal dander or mould.
Despite its name, hay fever is not the cause of spring allergies.
There are two types of hay fever:
- Seasonal hay fever (or seasonal allergic rhinitis): it is an allergic reaction to pollen coming from trees, grass or weed. Some people are allergic to one or more types of pollen and will have symptoms when these types are present.
- Perennial allergic rhinitis. Sufferers are affected by allergies throughout the year. It is caused by indoor allergens such as dust mites, mould or animal hair.
The most common symptoms, sometimes associated with a common cold, include:
- Frequent sneezing,
- Itchy, watery eyes,
- Tingling and irritation of the throat,
- Difficulty falling asleep,
- Worsening of symptoms in people with asthma or COPD.
Symptoms of allergic rhinitis differ from person to person and vary in their intensity.
If left untreated, they can become quite uncomfortable and interfere with daily activities.
In addition, repeated episodes of allergic rhinitis can lead to chronic sinusitis, which causes painful inflammation of the sinus cavities.
Asthma and allergic rhinitis, how are they related?
Asthma and allergic rhinitis are two separate conditions.
Indeed, as mentioned above, allergic rhinitis causes irritation and inflammation of the eyes, nose and upper airways. In contrast, allergic asthma mainly affects lower airways such as the bronchi.
Nevertheless, the two conditions are closely related, as 80% of asthma patients have allergic rhinitis and 20% of those affected by allergic rhinitis also develop asthma.
Asthma patients suffer, in most cases, from allergic rhinitis, which can start during childhood. Allergic rhinitis is actually a risk factor for developing asthma.
Thus, a child suffering from allergic rhinitis is three times more likely to develop asthma later on. Moreover, in the case of existing asthma, rhinitis can make its symptoms much worse.
It is important to be vigilant during the following hay fever seasons, both for you and your children, depending on the allergies:
- From late March to mid-May for tree pollen,
- From mid-May until July for grass pollen,
- And from the end of June to September for weed pollen.
The start of hay fever season may vary depending on where you live in the UK. To find out about the risks in your area, you can check the pollen calendar provided by the University of Worcester, or you can also visit the website of the National Meteorological services to follow the pollen forecast in your area for the next 5 days.
Seasonal allergies and asthma, what to do?
Seasonal allergies can make asthma symptoms worse and sometimes even cause a severe asthma attack. It is therefore essential to treat them properly.
Firstly, it is recommended that you see your GP to check for seasonal allergies and get appropriate treatment.
If your GP considers it necessary, he or she will refer you to an allergist in order to detect a possible allergy. The allergist will be able to diagnose an allergy after carrying out a detailed medical questionnaire and performing skin or blood tests.
And here are some tips on how to reduce your exposure to pollen:
- Get tested for allergies in order to find out which plants you are allergic to. Not all plants release their pollen at the same time of year. Once you know which ones you are allergic to, you can be prepared for the time of year when your allergy risk is at its highest.
- Follow the pollen forecast of the weather channels, to be able to plan your outdoor activities.
- During periods of high pollen counts, reduce your outdoor activities and try to go outside after a rainy day. The rain causes the pollen to fall to the ground.
- Change your clothes and take a shower, washing your hair, after each outdoor activity, to remove all traces of pollen.
- Keep the windows of your home and car closed.
Finally, it is recommended to start allergy treatment at the first symptoms, in order to reduce their impact on asthma.
There are several types of medication, both over-the-counter and prescription. As with asthma, the most effective medications are steroid nasal sprays.
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