How to manage hay fever without tablets – amid medication shortage

Don’t panic if you can’t find your usual meds (Picture: Getty/Metro.co.uk)

This time of year is the worst for hay fever sufferers.

If the sneezing, scratchy throat and watery eyes weren’t bad enough, now there’s also a shortage of allergy medication to contend with.

13 million of us in the UK experience pollen allergies, according to the NHS. However, the UK is currently experiencing shortages of the active ingredient used in Pirition and other hay fever drugs – and this comes just as forecasters signal high pollen levels over the coming days. 

So, what can you do about those annoying and debilitating allergy symptoms if you can’t get your hands on your usual tablets?

Dr Manpreet Bains, GP and head of clinical operations at home -blood testing company Thriva, has shared her tips for treating hay fever if you can’t find your usual drugs in the chemist.

‘Hayfever is a constellation of symptoms occurring at certain times of the year depending on what pollen you are allergic to,’ says Dr Manpreet.

‘Tree pollen season classically runs from late March to mid-May, grass pollen season from mid-May to July, and weed pollen season from June until September. It can affect one in five people at some point in their lives so chances are it either affects you, or someone you know.

‘The symptoms of this reaction can include itchy, watery and red eyes. Nasal symptoms can include a blocked or runny nose. Throat symptoms can include an itching sensation and soreness.’

Nine ways to reduce hay fever symptoms 

Up your Vitamin C

When it comes to diet, Manpreet says eating foods high in vitamin C have been linked to a lower likelihood of hay fever symptoms.

‘Good sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, dark leafy greens, peppers, broccoli and tomatoes,’ she adds.

Grab your shades

‘Try wearing a pair of wraparound sunglasses, this has been known to reduce the effect of pollen contact with the eyes.’ 

Jump in the shower

‘Shower and wash your hair and change your clothes after spending time outdoors to remove any pollen particles from your skin and hair,’ says Manpreet.

This will also help you to stay cool and fresh as temperatures rise.

Watch where you dry your clothes 

During the summer it’s tempting to make the most of the weather and dry washed clothes outside on the line, however Manpreet days this can be a bad move for people with pollen allergies.

She says: ‘Drying washed clothes indoors can make a difference.’ 

Try a balm

‘Nasal allergen balms applied to the outside of the nose can prevent pollen entering the airways,’ she says.

‘This can reduce the likelihood of hay fever symptoms from occurring.’

Rinse with salt

Sometimes rinsing your nasal passages with a salt water solution can be helpful. Manreet explains this is known as nasal irrigation or douching.

‘This rinsing process can help to remove irritants inside your nose which can reduce inflammation and relieve symptoms,’ she says.

Eat oily fish

A higher intake of fish oils, such as omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish or through supplementation has been associated with a reduction in allergic conditions such as hay fever.

‘Foods rich in Omega-3 and 6 essential fats contain anti-inflammatory properties and may help reduce symptoms of hay fever. These nutrients can be found in foods such as fish, seeds, nuts, and oils,’ adds Phil Day, superintendent pharmacist at Pharmacy2U.

‘It’s important to have a healthy, balanced diet filled with a variety of fruit and vegetables, however some fruits and vegetables can worsen symptoms. These include apples, tomatoes, stoned fruits, melons, bananas and celery.’ 

Stay indoors

Manreet says that it might be best to just hide away on the worst days.

‘For some people, they may prefer to stay indoors on days where the pollen count is very high and it may be helpful to take a look at the pollen forecast issued by the Met Office,’ says Manreet.

Try eye drops 

‘Eye drops containing anti-histamine can also be helpful, especially if eye symptoms are a real issue,’ she adds.

‘For troublesome nasal symptoms there are steroid nasal sprays that can help. 

‘If symptoms are getting worse or are not responding to the over the counter or home remedies it may be worth speaking to your GP. The key thing is to try and see what works for you and your body.’

Avoid outside activity when the air is warming up and cooling down

‘The pollen count is highest in the morning and then in the late afternoon and early evening,’ says Phil.

‘If you’re especially sensitive to pollen, you might want to avoid being outside at these times. If you’re worried about a high pollen count, we would recommend checking weather tracking apps daily.’ 

Cut down on alcohol

Most alcoholic drinks contain histamine, which Phil says is the same chemical released in the body when you have an allergic reaction and which is responsible for the unpleasant symptoms. 

‘An easy way to prevent summer allergy symptoms is to steer away from alcohol to avoid your allergy symptoms being triggered,’ he says.

‘Clear alcohols are generally lower in histamine than darker drinks like red wine and beer. Champagne is high in histamine, so find something else to celebrate with.’



Simple ways to prevent hay fever

Simple preventive actions you can take to reduce your exposure to pollen and therefore your chance of suffering with symptoms:

  • Stay indoors whenever possible and keep windows and doors shut if you can
  • In the house, it is important to vacuum regularly and dust with a damp cloth, and you could buy a pollen filter for the air vents in your car and a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter
  • Avoid having fresh flowers in the house that could release pollen. It can also help to avoid drying clothes outside, as they will catch pollen whilst drying
  • Be aware that pets can carry pollen indoors after they’ve been out
  • After going outside, shower and change your clothes to wash off pollen
  • Avoid cutting grass or walking on grass when possible
  • Put a small amount of Vaseline around your nostrils to trap pollen and wear wraparound sunglasses to stop pollen getting into your eyes 

Following our tips alongside over-the-counter medication if needed can ease symptoms significantly for most people. If you’re symptoms continue, then you should make an appointment to see your GP.

Phil Day, superintendent pharmacist at Pharmacy2U.

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