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The History of Hay Fever

The History of Hay Fever

Published: 3rd April, 2018 in: Hayfever

There aren’t many things quite as frustrating as allergies. Hay fever, in particular, is a common allergy for the UK, affecting between 10% and 30% of all adults and as many as 40% of children. It has even been reported that 1 in every 4 people will suffer from hay fever - that’s a whopping 16 million people, though perennial (persistent) rhinitis is more common amongst adults than children. Particularly rife in spring and summer when temperatures start to rise, hay fever can make you feel pretty drowsy and uncomfortable during the sparse spats of sunshine we receive in Britain, which makes it even more frustrating to deal with! Acting as so much more than an annoying side effect of spring, hay fever or ‘allergic rhinitis’ actually accounts for 16.7 million physician appointments a year across the globe, and costs the NHS (along with other allergies) over £900 million a year, showcasing just how difficult it can be for those who suffer from it. The questions we’ll seek to answer in this article are - what is hay fever? Where has it come from? What can we do to prevent it or alleviate symptoms?

So what is hay fever?

Hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, is essentially an allergy to pollen. It’s usually heightened between the months of March and September, especially when it’s warm, windy and humid. This is when the pollen count is at its highest, and consequently when most sufferers feel their hay fever symptoms at their worst. Rain actually clears the pollen from the air, which is why some hay fever sufferers who live in the UK consider themselves quite lucky - regardless of what season we’re in, there’s more than likely a smattering of rain coming soon! Other countries with a high prevalence of hay fever are Australia and New Zealand, whereas countries including Indonesia, Romania, Albania, Georgia and Greece have a very low prevalence of allergic rhinitis.

Hay fever is caused by the body’s immune system overreacting to pollen creating an inflammation in the nose, which it has mistaken for a virus, causing symptoms like sneezing and coughing, a runny or blocked nose, itchy, red or watery eyes, an itchy throat, mouth, nose or ears, loss of smell, headache, earache as well as a few others! Asthma and eczema sufferers have a higher risk of developing hay fever, as do those who are exposed to secondhand smoke during childhood. In fact, more than 40% of patients with hay fever have asthma, and more than 80% of asthmatic patients suffer from concomitant rhinitis, which is a condition where both asthma and allergic rhinitis coexist. Patients who suffer from allergic rhinitis have an increased risk of developing asthma alongside their hay fever.

The most common form of hay fever, which affects 90% of allergic rhinitis sufferers, is an allergy to grass pollen, which is most typically at its highest level from mid-May to July.

Hay fever discovery

Hay fever was discovered by Liverpool-born, London-based doctor John Bostock, who was himself a sufferer of the previously elusive condition that left him feeling drowsy and unwell during the summer months, and so launched himself into the world of medicine in an attempt to pinpoint what it was that he was suffering from. The phrase ‘hay fever’ developed from a paper he wrote with his findings on the condition in 1819,  "an idea has very generally prevailed, that it is produced by the effluvium (smell) from new hay, and it has hence obtained the popular name of the hay fever”, and has grown into a common household term ever since.

Despite his early discoveries, it seems that John Bostock struggled to find a cure for his symptoms, attempting to cure himself in a number of ways - including bleeding, cold baths, taking opium and self-induced vomiting. Unsurprisingly, none of these worked. One thing that did work from his more experimental methods was sea air. He rented a clifftop house near Ramsgate, Kent, for three summers in a row, enjoying a respite from his symptoms.

Prominence of hay fever

The wealth of pharmaceutical treatments to combat hay fever have of course increased exponentially since the 1800’s, but still it seems many don’t grasp just how difficult it can be to live with hay fever.

Though hay fever is a common condition - In Europe, for example, the European Community Respiratory Health Survey established the prevalence of allergic rhinitis (AR) as being from 4% to 32% of individuals suffering; it can be misconstrued as a minor condition, with few who don’t suffer appreciating how debilitating it can actually be. Creating so much more hassle than simply a blocked nose, hay fever can actually have a dramatic effect on your day to day life, both in work and at home too.

Up to 57% of adult patients and up to 88% of children with AR have sleep problems, including micro-arousals, leading to daytime fatigue and somnolence, and decreased cognitive functioning. Other more serious symptoms can include the general symptoms of asthma, a reduced quality of life thanks to the symptoms of hay fever causing you to be less productive, ear infections - especially in children, allergic conjunctivitis and sinus inflammation, which can become sinusitis due to persistent congestion.

Hay fever cure or prevention?

Sadly, there is no known concrete cure for hay fever, nor can you prevent it, though there are a number of ways to attempt to control your symptoms and alleviate the discomfort that AR can bring to your life.

The NHS recommends the following methods to ease the symptoms of your hay fever:

  • Put Vaseline around your nostrils to prevent the pollen from entering your nose
  • Shower and change your clothes after you’ve been outside to wash any pollen off
  • Wear wraparound sunglasses to stop pollen getting in your eyes and causing irritation
  • Keep windows and doors shut as much as possible to prevent pollen entering the home
  • Vacuum your home regularly and dust with a damp cloth
  • Monitor the pollen forecast and stay indoors when pollen is particularly high
  • Buy a pollen filter for the air vents in your car and a vacuum cleaner with a special HEPA filter

These are measures you can take to try and keep your home as pollen-free as possible to minimise your AR symptoms, but of course, a pharmacist will be able to help you further. Here at Weldricks Pharmacy, we have a well-stocked hayfever section, which is full of the best treatments to help minimise your hay fever, including antihistamine tablets, eye drops and nasal sprays.

Weldricks are always on hand to offer any advice or guidance with which products you need to help manage your hay fever, so you can either pop in to a local branch or fill out the enquiry form on our website for online medical advice on how to manage your AR.

Don’t forget to book an appointment with your GP if your symptoms get worse or persist after taking your medication.