Spring is here and it's when hayfever can strike

'SPRING has sprung, the grass has riz, I wonder where my hayfever is…'

Yes, with the end of winter chill we're facing the season of allergic rhinitis, to give hay fever its proper name.

It's caused by an allergic response to outdoor or indoor allergens such as pollen, dust mites, fungal spores or animal fur.

The nose, eyes, throat and sinuses become swollen, irritated and inflamed and one in five of us just wants to lie down quietly and die.

If you have asthma, hay fever can pose a serious threat to your health, because it increases your chance of admission to hospital and the need for steroid medication.

Less seriously, you don't work as well and you're continually tired and run-down.

The good news is that most can relieve symptoms with treatment, at least to a certain extent.

When the body imagines it's under attack from pollens etc, it releases histamine to fight the so-called threat and it is this chemical that causes all the grief.

Antihistamine tablets cancel it out and help with sneezing, itches and irritated eyes.

There are also combination drugs containing an antihistamine and a decongestant, but these must be used with caution.

Side effects include irritation of the lining of the nose, nausea or headaches.

Also to be used with extreme caution is decongestant tablets which can cause trouble with sleeping, increased blood pressure, anxiety and tremors.

Decongestant sprays unblock the nose but if used for more than a few days, can actually make things worse - your nose blocks up worse than ever when you stop using them!

If the condition is really debilitating, speak to your GP who will be able to provide more than over-the-counter remedies. However, any medication will only treat symptoms.

In extreme cases your GP may try desensitisation, a therapy that tries to switch off the allergic reaction by repeatedly introducing small doses of what you're allergic to, either by injection or by drops under the tongue.

This is a long-term treatment and must be administered by a medical specialist or it could result in a life-threatening allergic reaction.

Perhaps best to simply stock up on tissues and aspirin.

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