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Is Summer Making You Miserable?
Hay fever is caused by the body's immune system overreacting to pollen, which it has mistaken for a virus. It is also known as Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis and it affects the sufferer by causing running eyes and nose, itching and swelling, sneezing and a tickly nose and throat. It doesn’t affect everyone and there are types of pollen that irritate some people more than others. Asthma and eczema sufferers have a higher risk of developing hay fever, as do those exposed to second-hand smoke in childhood.
The most common form of hay fever, affecting 90% of sufferers, is an allergy to grass pollen, which is at its highest level from mid-May to July. Humid and windy weather helps pollen spread, while rain clears it from the air.
Supporting potential sufferers
If you work with people who cannot tell you their symptoms, make sure you stay alert to the possibility of these summertime allergic reactions. If you are a sufferer yourself, you will know how uncomfortable it makes you feel, so it is just as miserable for the people you support to be itchy and runny and sneezing.
What can you do to alleviate the symptoms? There are both medical and alternative therapies available and, in the case of severe hay fever, the first port of call when supporting a person with learning disability is to seek medical advice. This is especially important if other medicines are in use as you need to check any potential interactions.
The doctor may prescribe antihistamines in the form of tablets or a nasal spray, or eye drops if there is irritation there. Sometimes steroids are prescribed too.
Alternatives to the surgery
Its possible to purchase treatments for hayfever over the counter at the chemist or in the supermarket and you may be advised to do this. As with any medicine, check the information sheet inside to make sure there are no contraindications or interactions.
Encourage your service user to stay indoors when the pollen count is high and to wear wrap-around sunglasses to help protect the eyes. Make sure the windows are closed if the pollen count is over 50, and ensure you vacuum often to reduce the levels of dust around.
Some people find that a little Vaseline on a fingertip, rubbed around your nostrils, helps prevent pollen from entering the nose. Other non-medical treatments include sucking iced lollipops (no idea why, but I know lots of people who swear by this!). A spoonful of local honey is apparently another remedy (it has to be local!). However you want to treat it, its important to make sure the sufferer is comfortable, hydrated and supported. Keep an eye on people who look like they are affected and make the summer less irritating where you can.
Ginny Tyler – QCS Learning Disability Expert Contributor