Itchy, sneezy and wheezy? The best way to manage hay fever season

Itchy, sneezy and wheezy? How you can get a handle on hay fever season

Ah, springtime: lambs play in the fields, the briskness of winter begins to dissipate, and roughly one in five Australians considers clawing their (watering, itching) eyes out to get rid of the dreaded hay fever symptoms.

Year-round, allergens including dust mites, mold, or specific pollens can trigger allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever.

However, there are worries that the continued rain along the east coast of the country would result in above-average pollen generation and an especially congested spring for people who have seasonal allergic rhinitis.

Associate Prof. Ed Newbigin, the coordinator of the Melbourne Pollen Count, predicts that if these conditions persist over the upcoming months, Sydney’s grass pollen season will likely be greater than last year’s, while Canberra and Melbourne’s may be roughly on par with 2021.

For Canberrans with hay fever and asthma, he adds, “that said, 2021 was one of the worst grass pollen seasons, so saying it’s looking similar won’t be too much comfort.”

“Melbourne experienced an average-to-approximate grass pollen season last year, and things are presently tracking in a similar fashion this season.”

It is too soon to make any predictions about Brisbane’s season, which won’t reach its peak until next year, according to Newbigin, because subtropical grasses typically flower later than temperate grasses (in late summer and early fall).

According to Newbigin, the majority of the eastern side of Australia is likely to have rainfall above average from September to November given the present Indian Ocean dipole and the BoM’s prediction of a 70% possibility of another La Nia season.

We’re highly likely to observe significant variances in grass pollen levels across the different regions of eastern Australia, even though a wet spring should lead to lots of grass growth and lots of grass pollen. Forecasts aren’t guarantees.

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Get a diagnosis

Professor Sinthia Bosnic-Anticevich of the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research advises anyone experiencing the signs and symptoms of allergic rhinitis to seek medical attention. We are aware that up to 40% of persons with allergic rhinitis also have asthma, and that roughly 80% of patients with asthma also have allergic rhinitis. Untreated or inadequately treated allergic rhinitis can affect the ability to regulate asthma symptoms.

She also cautions that kids with the issue frequently go undetected.

Having hay fever symptoms with asthma? A doctor’s visit may be in order – lest it develop into something more serious. 

In a recent study of more than 1,500 Australian parents, the researcher and respiratory pharmacist found that when allergic rhinitis was poorly treated, children’s sleep, schoolwork, and daily life worsened.

According to Bosnic-Anticevich, “In some ways, perhaps it is not surprising; children often have runny noses, sniffles, colds, etc.” “It can be challenging to distinguish between allergic rhinitis and cold symptoms.”

However, receiving the best care could be “life-changing”.

I can’t emphasize enough how crucial it is for parents to seek guidance and maybe a diagnosis if their child repeatedly exhibits cold-like symptoms.

Find the right treatment

Bosnic-Anticevich notes that many individuals choose their own over-the-counter medications, often with unsatisfactory results, and advises speaking to a pharmacy or GP before beginning any treatments.

The majority of patients who seek medical attention have moderate-to-severe allergic rhinitis or claim that it has some influence on their daily lives. 70% of people choose their own medications without the help of a pharmacist when it comes to choosing their medications.

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“Unfortunately, less than 20% choose the best treatment,”

Blister packet of tablets
Seventy percent of people choose their own medication at the chemist – but the vast majority aren’t picking the best options. Get professional advice instead, experts say. Photograph: Patricia Phillips/Alamy

Regardless of how severe their symptoms are, the majority opt for antihistamine tablets as their first choice of treatment. says Bosnic-Anticevich.

“In reality, only a very tiny percentage of patients will benefit most from using oral antihistamines, which often leads to a cycle of drug failures and undertreatment of allergic rhinitis.

In general, we would expect that intranasal sprays – either antihistamine or anti-inflammatory, or a combination of both – would be used to treat the majority of patients who indicate that allergic rhinitis has an impact on their day-to-day living.

Dr. Kerry Hancock, an Adelaide-based general practitioner with a focus on respiratory medicine, advises people who already use nasal sprays to follow the directions carefully.

“To receive the most benefit from nasal sprays and reduce adverse effects, it’s extremely crucial that users take them as directed. Due to bloody nose, many people stop using nasal steroids, however this is frequently because they are not using the sprays properly.

A specialist skin-prick test
A specialist skin-prick test can lead to more specific treatments for allergy sufferers. Photograph: ronstik/Getty Images/iStockphoto

GPs can also try stronger prescriptions on patients who don’t respond to over-the-counter remedies.

A specialist may also be recommended to someone with severe allergies for allergy immunotherapy.

“Those with more unpleasant and/or persistent symptoms would benefit from allergy testing,” adds Hancock. This can be done by blood tests or skin prick tests, both of which can be easily performed by the patient’s general practitioner.

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Have a gameplan

In the event that symptoms worsen, doctors can also create plans of action. Hancock noticed that those who have asthma, seasonal allergy rhinitis, or both are more likely to get the rare but potentially fatal thunderstorm asthma.

Prof. Simon Haberle, director of the Canberra Pollen Monitoring Program, notes that while exposure to allergenic pollen can have serious negative effects on health, there is a growing body of knowledge to help people with allergic rhinitis and asthma manage the risks.

These consist of AirRater and Pollen Forecast. The Victorian Government also offers resources on thunderstorm asthma in a variety of languages, along with a risk forecast from October to December.

The health outcomes can be greatly enhanced, according to Haberle, by adhering to your doctor’s recommendations and monitoring the daily pollen levels.

Who’s to blame?

According to Haberle, the majority of plants that cause allergic rhinitis were brought to Australia during colonization for usage in pastures and urban settings.

The primary offender in Australia’s southern temperate regions is ryegrass (Lolium perenne), which blooms from October to December with a peak in November. Furthermore, being distant from a field does not guarantee relief. According to Haberle, “allergenic grasses can be cultivated in large quantities and transported over great distances.”

According to Haberle, trees containing allergenic pollen include cypress pines, ash, birch, plane, poplar, elm, and oak, along with the local casuarina species. The full effects of “non-grass” pollen on allergies are not well recognized.

The current climate issue might also make blossoming times less predictable.

Although our monitoring data is limited, there are some signs that the grass pollen seasons are beginning earlier and producing significantly more pollen, according to Haberle. These two patterns have been associated with the effects of climate change and are consistent with findings of shifting pollen seasons in the northern hemisphere.