Blog post: Dr Samantha Walker's Q&A - Managing asthma and hay fever during peak pollen season

Author: Dr Samantha Walker, Director of Research and Policy and Deputy Chief Executive at Asthma UK
Date: 21 June 2017

Have your noticed your hay fever symptoms are even more irritating than usual? That's because we're in 'peak' pollen season.

What is peak pollen season?

From mid-June to the end of June, grass is pumping out its highest amounts of pollen – and it's a very fine substance so it gets blown huge distances by the wind. That's why even city-dwellers get bad hay fever – because the pollen is blown in from grassy places. Add dry weather into the mix, like we're having right now, when there's no rain to wash it away, and the pollen count climbs even further.

How can hay fever affect asthma?

Around 80% of people with asthma tell us they have hay fever. If you do, you'll know how frustrating it can be. Instead of enjoying the nice weather, you often end up feeling tired and miserable, maybe even a bit like you've got the flu.

There's a real risk too, because asthma symptoms can be triggered by your pollen allergy.

Can I do anything to protect myself?

Fortunately, there are a lot of things you can do to reduce both your hay fever and asthma symptoms.

First off, make sure you're taking your preventer inhaler every day as prescribed. Then your airways will be less likely to react to triggers so when your lungs become full of pollen, you won't react as badly.

Next, treat your hay fever, tailoring the treatment to the symptoms you get. Read our advice on different hay fever treatments to get the full picture.

Some things to remember:

  • Try a steroid-based nasal spray first if you're getting a runny nose. If you use one every day it can be very effective.
  • Don't sniff when you use your nasal spray even if some spray runs out of your nose! If you sniff, you end up swallowing most of it so it ends up in your stomach where it won't do any good: you need it to work inside your nose.
  • If you take the same anti-histamine tablets for a while, you might find they stop working so well. If this happens, try switching to a different tablet.

What if my usual hay fever treatment isn't working?

If you've been taking hay fever medicine and it's not working speak to your pharmacist or GP about trying another option. For example, oral prednisolone can be useful for short-term relief if you have an important life event coming up, such as a wedding or exams. You can take a course of tablets for five to seven days before the event.

For persistent hay fever symptoms, immunotherapy treatment may be an option. It involves taking injections or tablets of grass pollen to build up your immunity which change your immune system so you no longer respond to pollen. The research on immunotherapy shows that if you have three years of treatment you get at least three years' benefit, and possibly a lot longer.

You can get immunotherapy on the NHS, but need to be referred to an allergy specialist (see The British Society for Allergy & Clinical Immunology website for a list of specialists).

What's Asthma UK doing about hay fever?

Much of the research into immunotherapy has happened thanks to Asthma UK supporters. We fund the MRC-Asthma UK Centre in Allergic Mechanisms of Asthma at Imperial College London and King's College London, where they've done a lot of important work that could result in ridding your summer of hay fever completely, and reducing the number of asthma attacks.

Read more about the work going on at King's College in our blog.

If you – like us – want to get rid of hay fever, and stop it interfering with asthma and your life, please help our researchers beat hay fever by donating to Asthma UK.

Dr Samantha Walker speaks at a conference

Dr Samantha Walker is Deputy Chief Executive and Executive Director for Research & Policy at Asthma + Lung UK. She is the co-ordinator of the EU funded EARIP research project and leads the research and policy team’s effort to see more investment in asthma research.