You sneeze into a snotty tissue and squint out at the beautiful spring day through red, swollen eyes. Your throat itches and your skin is erupting in lumps – you’re allergic to something!
It’s not uncommon – one in four people has some kind of allergy
or another. It can be anything from pets to pollen, nuts to latex. But when spring decides to arrive and the sun comes out of hiding, allergies can get worse.
Sunita was a teenager when her allergies started. At first it was just cats that left her with itchy eyes and sore skin. But she soon developed hay fever – an allergy that came close to ruining the summer.
“You have this whole period from April or May all the way through to the height of summer. All sorts of things set it off – and it’s not just pollen. I get sensitive to pollution and fumes and even perfume. They give me a really runny nose and itchy eyes,” she says.
can make enjoying the spring and summer quite tricky unless you are prepared.
“I have to plan around the allergy," says Sunita. “If I know I am going out to the park or for a picnic then I have to take the pills and use the nasal spray and wear sunglasses, which are really good at keeping pollen and things out of my eyes. You have to plan ahead because the last thing you want is to get caught out.”
To deal with allergies effectively you first need to understand what’s going on. An allergy
is a bad reaction to a protein in the environment around you. These proteins are called allergens.
Normally the body pays no attention to these allergens. But in some cases the immune system attacks them. This causes swelling and irritation and can make your skin itchy and your breathing wheezy. In extreme cases it can cause shock and even death.
John Collard, clinical director of the charity Allergy UK
, warns that allergies get worse when the spring arrives – and this can have a huge impact on young people.
“The peak time for allergies is the summer because the largest number of people are allergic to grass pollen. But the trend starts around March or April when the tree pollination starts and generally the levels will keep rising to around early August,” he says.
“One of the big problems for teenagers is that this is exam and revision time. They are suffering the symptoms when they need to be concentrating. They are bunged up and their eyes are streaming or they are hit by the side effects of the medication and they can’t think straight.
“There are suggestions that it might be better to have exams in October or November when less people are allergic,” he adds.
On a mission
Unless the exam dates are shifted quickly then you’ll have to find ways to manage the problem. This is a two stage mission, as John from Allergy UK
“The best way to manage an allergy is avoidance. That means you have got to know what is triggering you off. Sometimes that is quite obvious, like for example if you are sneezing in June and July then it is likely that it is grass pollen. But if it happens all year round then it is trickier to find out what is going on.
“Identify the trigger and then take steps to avoid it. What you do depends on what the prime suspect is,” says John.
To find out what’s causing your allergies it’s best to visit your doctor. They can do a few simple tests. They might do a skin prick test, which involves putting a small amount of an allergen into the skin and watching the reaction. A blood test will also help the doctor work out what is going on.
Once you know what’s causing the allergic reaction then it’s time for stage two.
“The next step is medication – things like antihistamines, nasal sprays, eye drops. These manage the symptoms and can be very effective," says John.
“But for some people, even avoiding allergens and taking medication doesn’t control the allergy appropriately. There are other kinds of desensitisation treatment that can be used to correct the immune system but they are only used in extreme cases. You should speak to your pharmacist or GP about this.”
Tricks and tips
If you’re one of those people whose eyes start streaming in the spring then you need to start your medication early to beat the symptoms. Start taking antihistamines and nasal sprays around March – a few weeks before the season really starts.
Sunita believes that planning ahead can help: “I treat myself with antihistamines. I take it every morning in the hopes that I can build up some immunity. I’m not sure how effective it is just to take it when you feel the symptoms coming on.”
She also has a ritual to get rid of the allergens when she gets home.
“Wash your hair and face and clothes as soon as you get in. Whatever is flying around gets caught on you so get rid of it. Also, keep the windows shut during the summer because it really helps. But I keep them open during the winter to get rid of the dust,” she says.
There are a few things you can do at home to keep most allergies in check:
- Open the windows for at least an hour twice a day (except during the pollen season if you have hay fever)
- Don’t dry your clothes indoors
- Turn down the central heating
- Choose wooden floors
- Use a damp cloth when you do the dusting
All these things will reduce the allergens in the air, whether they are from pets, pollen or dust mites. If you are allergic to a certain food then you need to read the ingredients of everything you eat and cut it out of your diet completely.
If you follow these simple steps then there no reason why allergies should ruin your summer or make you too ill to enjoy yourself. Just remember to be prepared!