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Do You Suffer From Hay Fever?

Charles Flynn


Over five million hay fever sufferers across Britain are putting their health at risk by taking inappropriate medicines for their condition. The Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB) is encouraging sufferers to visit their community pharmacist after new research revealed that the public often misdiagnose their own symptoms and fail to get the correct treatment.

Some experts are predicting that this year’s hay fever season will be one of the worst ever with birch and grass pollen seasons overlapping, leading to ore people suffering from symptoms earlier in the year.


Hay Fever

Allergic rhinitis, known as hay fever, is a condition which is caused by the pollen of specific seasonal plants, airborne chemicals and dust particles, which only occur at certain times of the year, in people who are allergic to these substances. Cells on the lining of the nose and eyes release histamine and other chemicals when they come in contact with pollen. This causes inflammation in the nose (rhinitis) and eyes (conjunctivitis). It is commonly characterised by sneezing, runny nose and itching eyes.



Research was carried out by YouGov between 02-04 April 2008, interviewing 1981 people including 547 hay fever sufferers. The GB population of adults 18+ is (according to ONS) 46,158,100. Therefore the number of hay fever sufferers in Great Britain aged 18 years of age and above (27.59%) is 12,735,019. Of these, 41.95% agreed that they may have been misdiagnosed, which equates to 5,342,340. Full research results are available on request.


Pharmacy role in treatment

Community Pharmacists currently provide a wide range of services and support to patients with allergic conditions and associated conditions e.g. allergic asthma. Their main role at present is the over the counter diagnosis and supply of medicines to manage mild allergic reactions and skin conditions but recent changes in Government policy is set to extend the role of the local pharmacist to increase the role of pharmacists in the management of allergic conditions. With over a third (35%) of hay fever sufferers saying that they go to their doctor to treat their symptoms, the new role of the pharmacy is expected to help improve the health of thousands of people as new services are introduced.



• Hay fever can aggravate other conditions, such as asthma, and cause serious health risks.

• Many people may be suffering unnecessarily.

• Hay fever (also called seasonal allergic rhinitis) is caused by an allergy to plant pollens.

• Grass pollen is the most common cause (May to July).

• The term is sometimes used when allergies are caused by other pollens such as from tree pollens (March to May).

• Symptoms are due to the immune system reacting to the pollen.

• Cells on the lining of the nose and eyes release histamine and other chemicals when they come in contact with pollen. This causes inflammation in the nose (rhinitis) and eyes (conjunctivitis).


• There are almost 13 Million people suffering with hay fever in Great Britain.

• Over 5 Million hay fever sufferers could be taking inappropriate medication for their condition - putting their health at risk – after misdiagnosing themselves.

• 2 in 5 people suffer with irritability.

• 29% have difficultly concentrating.

• 1 in 3 have difficultly sleeping due to their symptoms.

• 1 in 10 are embarrassed about their appearance and avoid socialising.

• 14% have problems reading (implications for school children in particular).

• 4% said their symptoms affected their sex life.

• 73% of people who experience these symptoms fail to seek medical advice before selecting a treatment.

• 1 in 20 avoid leaving their home because of the condition.

• £87.6million spent on OTC medications in 2006 – a rise of 17% from the previous year.

• The proportion of children diagnosed with hay fever or allergic rhinitis tripled between the early 1970s and early 1990s.


Pharmacy Messages:

• Pharmacists are highly trained health care professionals and experts in medicines. They can play a significant role in symptom management.


Advice for sufferers:

• Keep windows and doors shut if it gets too warm and try drawing the curtains to keep out the sun and keep the temperature down.

• Avoid cutting grass, playing or walking in grassy areas and camping.

• Change clothes and take a shower after being outdoors to remove the pollen on your body.

• Wear wrap-around sunglasses to stop pollen getting in your eyes.

• Keep car windows closed and consider buying a pollen filter for air vents.

• Vacuum and dust regularly and avoid fresh flowers.

• Keep pets out of the house during hay fever season and make sure any pollen on their coats is removed.

• Do not smoke as it irritates the lining of your nose, eyes, throat and airways – which can make symptoms worse.


• Antihistamines – inhibit the release of histamines, which are released during an allergic reaction and cause symptoms.

• Steroids – reduce inflammation in the nose of eyes.

• Sodium Cromoglycate – prevents allergic reactions in nose and eyes.

• Decongestants – can unblock the nose.

• Desensitisation – a form of vaccine against pollen.


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