UK Hay Fever Sufferers “Face A Tough Summer”:


 Is it finally Spring yet? No-one – least of all the weather forecasters – seems to be quite sure. Indeed, “The Guardian” (14th May) has reported Emma Corrigan of the Meteorological (Met) Office as anticipating that there could even be “ flakes of snow” in parts of Britain this month and that “it’s going to feel very cold for this time of year”. Traditionally, it has been the cuckoo (notorious for laying its eggs in other birds’ nests) which has announced the new season after migrating back from Africa. Its “ instantly recognisable two-note call” used to be (as both the Independent & Guardian have commented) “ one of the iconic, classic sounds of Spring”. Not any more: The numbers of cuckoos have apparently “declined by 60% (or 75%, according to Channel 4 News on 13th May) in the last 40 years and they have now “vanished from many parts of the UK, especially in the south”.

So what else do we have to inform us of the transition from winter to spring? The longer days, of course. Usually also the bleats of new-born lambs gambolling on fields around the country. But not this year: Thousands of them didn’t survive the heavy snow which engulfed much of Britain in March. These days, there is a far more reliable indicator of the change of seasons: There are suddenly a lot more people walking around, or on the underground & buses, with red eyes, runny noses and hacking coughs. They may of course just have a “common cold” – but it’s more likely the real cause is hay fever. The Daily Mail journalist, Michael Hanlon, commiserates with those “ unlucky enough to be afflicted”. For them, he observes, “This time of year is sheer misery. Their eyes stream and a constant irritation in the sinuses & the back of the throat makes every breath an ordeal” Furthermore: “Experts in immunology and allergies have calculated that more than one in four people in Britain have this malady – compared with one in eight in the early 1980’s”.

The “Hay Fever Health Report 2010” compiled by Professor Jean Emberlin, Director of NPARU (National Pollen & Aerobiology Research Unit) on behalf of the Kleenex Company, estimated that by 2015, 33% (20.9 million) of the UK population would have hay fever and that this problem could affect a potential 45% (32 million) people by 2030. The increase (she predicts) will be higher in “large conurbations” such as London & Birmingham (due to higher pollution concentrations and urban climates which generate longer pollen seasons) but lower in urban areas near coasts (due to fresher air & lower pollution) and cities in the far North of England & in Scotland (because the pollen seasons there are shorter and less severe).

Professor Emberlin concluded from her research that “people with the highest stress levels endure the most severe symptoms”, just one in five hay fever sufferers (19%) get the recommended amount of exercise, with almost a quarter (24%) not exercising at all, and that “those who rate their diet as healthy are the most likely to find their symptoms are mild”. She also suggested that “one in four men” exaggerate the extent of their hay fever: “ 40% to get sympathy and 35% to get attention from a partner”. She advised that (in addition to reducing stress levels and eating a balanced & varied diet to support the immune system) hay fever victims shouldn’t go outside when the pollen count is at its highest (“for grass pollen, usually first thing in the morning & early evening”), but when they are out, should carry tissues, a bottle of water and their prescribed medication with them. They shouldn’t hang clothes outside on high pollen count days “because this allows pollen to cling to the fabric”. Cigarettes & smoky environments should be avoided as smoke “irritates the respiratory passages & nose”. She exhorts sufferers to try to reduce their alcohol intake during the hay fever season: “As well as making you more sensitive to pollen, alcohol dehydrates you, making the symptoms seem worse”. Her study indicated that people “who sleep for an average of seven or more hours a night” are less likely to experience severe manifestations than those “ who sleep for five hours or less” and that certain foods “can exacerbate symptoms”. For instance, apples, tomatoes and stoned fruits “react with birch pollen”, melons & bananas with “ragweed pollen” and celery with “birch and mugwort pollen”.

The (so far) wet & miserable spring is (Luisa Dillner asserted in the Guardian on 28th April) definitely not good news for hay fever victims. She quoted the warning by Professor Roy Kennedy of NPARU that  “multiple tree pollens (having been delayed by the cold weather) will be released at the same time and thus produce the highest levels for decades”. To cope with this situation, Dillner recommends wearing “wrap- around sunglasses”, keeping your car windows closed when you drive, changing your clothes & showering when you get home (to remove the pollen), taking antihistamines once a day for the duration of the season and using a steroid nasal spray for “ a seriously bunged up nose”. The UK Met Office provides a daily & weekly updated pollen forecast and a “pollen count calendar” – but emphasises that the severity and timing of the pollen season (“normally March to August”) will “differ from year-to-year depending on the weather, biological factors and geographical location”.

On a global scale, “extrapolated statistics” provided by the “Cure Research” and “Right Diagnosis” websites indicate that there are 37,786,541 hay fever sufferers in the USA. In Latin America: Brazil (23,689,481), Mexico (13,505,830), Colombia (5,444,401), Peru (3,544,303), Venezuela (3,219,149), Chile (2,036,170), Paraguay (796,683). In the UK, research by Tesco has revealed that Kent (“the garden of England”) is the country’s “hay fever capital”, with Gillingham at No.1,  followed by Ashford (also Kent), Basildon & Romford (Essex),  Milton Keynes (Buckinghamshire) all featuring in the top five.




Filed under: Healthcare, Society | Posted on May 21st, 2013 by Colin D Gordon

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