I drew a few short straws in the genetic lottery. There’s my height (5ft 4in). The “Urwin bottom” (bony yet structurally significant). And then, worst of all, there’s hay fever — or allergic rhinitis to use its proper name. My family and I spend every summer sniffly, scratchy-throated and blotchy-skinned, with itchy red eyes and a snotty tissue up our sleeves. It’s totally hot.
Hay fever sufferers are easy to spot: they’re the ones who look as though they’ve just sat through a Life is Beautiful-Philadelphia-My Girl movie marathon, bookended by funerals. And since the pollen count is at its highest on warm days, hay fever makes you want to spend the whole summer inside, your nose hermetically sealed.
Our sad tribe of hay fever hermits expands every year. About 16 million people — or almost one in four Britons — are now sufferers. Most, like me, are allergic to grass pollen; others tree pollen. You can tell which from the time of year your nose starts dripping. The early adopters (April to May) often have a problem with birch pollen; if the start of June marks your hay fever season, grass is probably the enemy. Either way, here’s how to have as sniffle-free a summer as possible.
The drugs do work
First, you need to recognise if the problem is hay fever. Lots of people go to their GP complaining of sinus problems, or they take over-the-counter decongestants which can irritate the nasal passage further. What they actually need are nasal sprays (nothing beats a good sniff of Beconase) and antihistamines (Boots own-brand work fine for me).
Pick non-drowsy antihistamines to avoid falling asleep at your desk. Oh, and ignore any wazzocks who harp on about homeopathy (magical, unicorn water) or honey (as a friend puts it: “about as effective as freebasing grass cuttings”).
You can check the pollen count on the Met Office website, which warns you which days will be worst. As pollen is most abundant in the early morning, shutting windows overnight should help. So will drying clothes indoors, as the pollen can stick to your outfit.
Hoover your home regularly to remove pollen — it can get trapped in carpets and curtains. Shower swiftly after a trip to the park to get pollen out of your hair and off your skin. When driving, close the windows.
Wear sunglasses to stop pollen getting in — the wraparound kind favoured by lycra-clad cyclists are the most effective. Sodium cromoglycate eye drops can also help (though avoid contact lenses). Cucumber slices on the eyes — that old beauty trick — may temporarily alleviate the itchiness.
Vaseline on the nostrils is meant to catch the pollen — although it has the side-effect of making you feel like a bit of a perv. A glorified version is NasalGuard AllergieBLOCK, a drug-free gel which is supposed to act as a blockade against airborne allergens.
A doctor once showed me a revolting but effective way of getting immediate relief too. The “nasal douche” involves snorting water up each nostril, then blowing it back out, to wash away the pollen. It does make you feel like you’ve just been swimming though. Some sufferers also advise sucking ice cubes to ease irritation in the mouth.
Don’t overlook the obvious
Don’t smoke — it can exacerbate symptoms. NHS Direct recommends all the other general healthy life tips for minimising hay fever pain too — staying stress free, cutting out alcohol, exercising and eating well. Or just quit this spore-infested island — countries such as Finland apparently have much lower pollen counts.