Pollen problems: Increase in sick days for hay fever sufferers

Hay fever is putting a strain not just on our sinuses, but on our economy as well. A study recently conducted by the Met office has found that hay fever costs the UK 29 million working days a year, which equates to 11 working days a year per hay fever sufferer.

Symptoms of hay fever include:

  • sneezing
  • itchy eyes
  • runny nose

It is caused by an allergic reaction to pollen; tree and grass pollen in the spring/summer and weed pollen in the autumn.

Around 41% of us suffer with hay fever at some point or another during our life time, and 1 in 10 people claim that their hay fever stops them from going to work or school when symptoms are at their most severe. Whilst hay fever itself is not serious it is clear that it can affect a person’s quality of life.

With allergies affecting so many of us, talkhealth has conducted numerous surveys to broaden our understanding and awareness of the symptoms that hay fever sufferers live with daily. In our most recent hay fever survey we asked about the symptoms people suffered with the most. The most common symptoms were unsurprisingly sneezing (87%), a runny nose (87%) and itchy eyes (73%). These are symptoms which the vast majority of hay fever sufferers will experience at some point or another; however hay fever can lead to further complications for some. 33% of people stated that they experience shortness of breath as a result of hay fever. Asthma symptoms can begin or increase in some cases of hay fever, with sufferers experiencing shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing and a tight chest. For those who do not experience asthma at any other time other than when they have hay fever, these symptoms can be unnerving.

The Met Office study also found that levels of productivity dropped by more than 25% in those workers who were experiencing symptoms of hay fever. With pollen levels rising year on year this is a problem which is only set to increase. Dr Jean Emberlin, scientific director of Allergy UK, has stated, “Increases in pollen counts due to climate change, population, air pollution, urbanisation and stress are making people more prone to hay fever.” She also went on to describe how sufferers are worsening their symptoms, “Stress, dehydration, diet and a big life change are other factors that can worsen symptoms - as these lower the immune system.”

When hay fever sufferers were asked to name the month in which they feel their hay fever is at its most severe, 57% of people answered June.  With the pollen count being at it’s highest throughout the months of June and July, talkhealth would like to offer you some key tips to help alleviate your symptoms this summer.

  • Shower after being outdoors - when the sun comes out, it is natural for us to want to spend as much time as possible outdoors. Pollen can very easily get on your skin and in your hair, which can cause symptoms to continue even after you’ve gone indoors. Shower as soon as you get back to feel clean, fresh and pollen free.
  • Dry your clothes on a clothes horse indoors - similarly to your skin and hair, pollen can easily get onto your clothes. To ensure you aren’t sneezing and wheezing with pollen sneaking around on your t-shirt, dry your clothes indoors when possible.
  • Take pre-emptive measures - you should always prepare for the unexpected, or the expected in this case. If you have been suffering with hay fever for a number of years you should be aware of the key times of year where you feel at your worst. Begin taking antihistamines a couple of weeks before you would usually experience symptoms, and you may find them to be even more effective.
  • Cut out that booze - alcohol actually worsens hay fever, as it contains histamine, which sets off allergy symptoms in your body. So try to limit the amount of alcohol you drink at your summer festivals and BBQs!
  • Making the right lifestyle choices – as stated above by Dr Emberlin, lifestyle choices can have a big impact on those suffering with hay fever. You may find that by exercising more, eating well, reducing your stress levels and getting plenty of sleep your symptoms may become easier to deal with.

If you have any top tips for living with hay fever, please do join in the conversation on our talkallergy forum.

Sources used in writing this article are available on request.

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Next review: 6 July 2021