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Grass pollen and hay fever

Grass pollen is the most common allergen that causes the allergic reaction we know as hay fever, with the grass pollen season running from May-June.

Monitoring the pollen count is one way of helping to manage hay fever, by understanding what the pollen count is going to be in advance can help with decisions on outside activities eg exercise and when to start taking medication.

There are number of ways of monitoring the pollen forecast including online websites, apps that can be used on portable electronic devices, by listening to weather forecasts on the television or radio during the spring/summer.

Current forecasting relies on measuring the total load of grass pollen in the atmosphere but does not distinguish between pollen from different types of grass. New research, led by Bangor and Exeter Universities, has revealed a potential link between particular grass species and respiratory health issues which could mean that pollen forecasting in the future could be more specific to types of pollen.

At certain times of the year, between May and mid-august grass pollen is the most common allergic trigger of hay fever symptoms.  This research could lead to more precise pollen forecasts for different allergen types to the considerable benefit of those living with respiratory allergic conditions.

The PollerGEN research project is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and led by Professor Simon Creer of Bangor University.

Hay fever can be managed by:

  • Avoidance of the allergic trigger (pollens, moulds, house dust mite etc)
  • Avoiding airborne allergens such as pollen can be difficult. However, many people do see their symptoms improve when avoiding or reducing exposure to house dust mite and pets.
  • Nasal allergen barrier balms may be useful, when applied around the nostrils, can help to prevent allergens entering the nose and triggering symptoms.
  • Nasal rinses with a normal saline solution (also known as saline douching or irrigation) are available to wash away allergens from the nose. These can be used as frequently as required and in conjunction with prescribed or over the counter medications.

The following measures can also be helpful for pollen allergic people:

  • Monitor pollen forecasts daily and stay indoors wherever possible when the count is high (generally on warmer, dry days). Rain washes pollen from the air so counts should be lower on cooler, wet days. Although do beware of thunderstorms when pollen counts are high. Limit time spent in rural areas. Sea breezes blow pollen inland, so escape to the coast instead.
  • On high pollen days, shower and wash your hair after arriving home and change your clothing (as pollen is virtually indestructible unless wet, so will stay on hair, body and clothing).
  • Keep windows closed when indoors. This is most important in the early mornings, when pollen is being released, and in the evening when the air cools and pollens that have been carried up into the air begin to fall to ground level again.
  • Pollen counts tend to be high along roads with grass verges (dual-carriageways, motorways). If you have allergic symptoms whenever inside a motor vehicle, a good pollen filter should help. In the home you can choose an air filter that is proven to trap even small particles (see our endorsed product ranges for air filters that may help).
  • Avoid mowing lawns or raking leaves yourself. If you must perform these tasks, use a filtration face mask (see our endorsed product ranges) and wear wrap-around sunglasses. Ideally if you are grass pollen allergic, delegate this task to someone who is not.
  • Wear wraparound sunglasses when outdoors to keep pollen allergens out of your eyes. A hat with a peak or large brim can help keep pollens from your eyes and face.
  • Avoid drying clothes etc outside when pollen counts are high.
  • Keep car windows closed and the air intake on ‘recirculate’ when driving. Choose a car that is fitted with an effective pollen filter, or get an in-car air filter.
  • Pets specifically dogs and cats can carry pollen on their fur/hair which can be transferred after petting/stroking them. Wipe pets coats with a damp microfibre cloth to remove pollens when they have been out.

What is immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy, often referred to as desensitisation, is a unique treatment for allergic diseases. It is a well-established treatment reserved for certain severe allergies such as when someone has severe allergic rhinitis that has not been previously controlled by any of the anti-allergy medication tried.

Immunotherapy usually involves the administration of increasing doses of allergen extracts over a period of time, given to patients by injection or drops/ tablets under the tongue (sublingual).

 Allergy develops when the immune system makes IgE antibodies to ‘fight off’ a substance (allergen) that wouldn’t normally bother us, such as pollen, animal dander, house dust mites, mould spores, foods or the venom of bees or wasps. Immunotherapy is an attempt to modify the immune system so that it no longer reacts to allergens in the same way.

Most hay fever symptoms are well controlled with medicines such as nasal sprays, anti-histamines and eye drops. (See our hayfever and allergic rhinitis Factsheet). If these measures are effective, then there is no need for immunotherapy. Most allergy clinics will not accept patients for immunotherapy unless they have tried all the usual treatments first and have taken them properly and in the right combination.

If you and your doctor think that you may need immunotherapy, you will need to be referred to an allergy specialist. In some areas, this may mean travelling some distance, as not all hospitals have allergy specialists.

For more information, download our immunotherapy Factsheet.

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