This time of year doesn’t have to be a nightmare for hay fever sufferers. There are apps and products not to be sneezed at, writes Carolyn Moore
It’s starting earlier, lasting longer, and experts are noticing a marked increase in the severity of symptoms endured by sufferers each year.
It’s hay fever season; and while the finishing line is in sight, for the 1m Irish people who suffer from it — myself included — there could be weeks of misery still ahead, as we find ourselves at the mercy of increasingly erratic weather patterns. Some self-medicate; others find relief in natural remedies; but for some hay fever sufferers, technology is helping them keep symptoms at bay.
While we would love to welcome summer with open arms (and airways), those with seasonal allergic rhinitis know that wet days bring some relief; while dry, sunny spells spell misery for anyone struggling to keep hay fever under control.
Rainfall keeps pollen down, but pollen counts surge in its aftermath, and the intermittent rain and sunshine that marked this summer is a pattern that’s particularly troublesome for hay fever. For city dwellers, pollution like diesel fumes mixes with pollen to create ‘super pollen’, which exacerbates and prolongs their symptoms.
The main culprit in Ireland is grass pollen — 90% of hay fever sufferers are allergic to it. While that usually peaks in June, depending on the weather, grass pollen season can begin in May and last through August. Tree pollen affects some sufferers as early as March, while weed pollen impacts others into September. For more still, perennial hay fever means they experience symptoms year round.
The temptation is to procure some relief by simply popping pills from spring to autumn; but using apps to predict, monitor, and manage your hay fever symptoms could help you avoid the potential pitfalls of overmedication.
Allergy specialist Dr Paul Carson says perennial hay fever is on the rise, mirroring a surge in allergies generally. “Allergy is on the increase significantly,” he says. “That’s not just something I’m personally noticing — statistics show it.”
Patients he helped as children are now returning to him with their own kids. “This new generation is much more allergically challenged than their parents were,” he states. “The evolution of allergy is that it’s not just more widespread, it’s also more aggressive.
“Twenty years ago, 15% of the population suffered allergies; now it’s 25%; and experts predict in the next decade it will be 50%. There’s an allergy explosion — particularly respiratory allergies affecting the nose, sinus, and lungs.”
He adds: “Over-reliance on antihistamines in the treatment of nasal allergies has created a sinus epidemic in Westernised countries. Antihistamines work by masking the swelling in the nose and sinuses. That persists well after the pollen season has died down, and it begins to evolve into a long-standing, ongoing sinus problem.”
On top of this, quick-fix solutions to the discomfort of a blocked nose can become part of the problem.
Rhinitis medicamentosa is rebound congestion, occurring when users become addicted to over-the-counter decongestants. Warnings to this effect are easily overlooked when the relief they offer is instantaneous; but they can turn a seasonal problem into a chronic condition. “I understand why people reach for an instant solution,” says Dr Carson, “but they are damaging their nose lining with overuse of decongestants.”
Indeed, for those of us who just want to get through hay fever season with minimal disruption to our everyday lives, there is a tendency to turn blindly to antihistamines and decongestants. We don’t want our summers ruined by runny noses, streaming eyes, headaches, lethargy, post-nasal drip and sneezing, so we overlook alternatives that could provide long-term solutions.
“If you’re miserable, you want relief,” says Dr Carson. “With alternative remedies or prescription steroids you may not see results for two or three days, and you might have a big date or a presentation at work, so you’ll opt for whatever gets you through.”
When it comes to the treatment of hay fever, experts agree that forewarned is forearmed. Whether you undertake a preventative treatment programme in advance of the season, or turn to medication once it kicks in, knowing how and when to treat your hay fever is crucial. And as many hay fever sufferers are now discovering — there’s an app for that.
Dr Carson and his son David created the Hay Fever Relief app, “to empower people to take care of and control their own hay fever symptoms, based on the fact that the majority of people do self-medicate. “Even when people go to the doctor with hay fever, the care they get is not always adequate,” he says.
It’s a failing that could have lasting consequences, as experts now link untreated seasonal allergic rhinitis to chronic sinus issues, asthma, and sleep apnoea.
Armed with the information contained within the free Hay Fever Relief app, users can develop an overarching treatment plan and use pollen forecasts to augment that when needed. From animations illustrating the physical effects of hay fever to self-help tips and guides to alternative treatments, it puts a hay fever encyclopedia in your pocket.
Local, accurate pollen forecasts for Ireland and the UK, by Professor Paul Dowding, can help you plan outings and trips, and decide when antihistamines or other medications might be most effective.
Upgrading to Hay Fever Relief Pro (€4.99) allows users to input and track their symptoms and get expert, personalised treatment plans.
The app also links to international pollen forecasts, invaluable for travellers who don’t want hay fever playing havoc with their holidays. For more in-depth air-quality forecasts, download Air Matters. Hay fever is worse in highly polluted areas, because pollutants ‘stick’ to pollen, making it more potent when it enters your airways.
Developed in China in response to critical smog levels, Air Matters allows users to access real-time air quality, pollen, and weather data for 50 countries (not including Ireland).
For those with respiratory challenges, or the parents of children with allergies, asthma, or both, the air quality inside the home can be of even greater concern. Hay fever is linked to dust and animal allergies.
Air pollution inside the home can be up to five times worse than outside, so, given that we spend 90% of our time indoors, it’s worth considering an air purifier. Certified Asthma & Allergy Friendly (and with an app worth downloading), the Dyson Pure Hot+Cool Link can be used year-round to remove 99.95% of polluting particles, like pollen, mould, and bacteria, from the air. The Dyson Link app turns your device into an
at-home air-quality monitor.
Tracking and recording indoor air quality readings (along with outdoor air quality, humidity, weather, and pollen counts for your area) it allows you to monitor when the air quality drops, and remotely run the fan to correct it. Sensors in the machine automatically adjust airflow to maintain your target air quality, and left on auto through the night, it keeps the air clean while you sleep.
For people who’ve always suffered from hay fever, months of discomfort may feel as inevitable as death and taxes; but for those now turning to apps and technology to help alleviate their symptoms, the relief they can offer is certainly not to be sneezed at.
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