Spring is here, and while that means a welcome end to the
winter weather, for many South Africans it also signals the beginning of runny
noses, itchy eyes and constant sneezing.
According to the South African Allergy Society, as many as
20–30% of South Africans suffer from Allergic Rhinitis, otherwise known as hay
“Over 500 million
people worldwide suffer from hay fever, with children and adults 30 to 40 years
old, experiencing the worst symptoms, says Allison Veinings, Executive Director
of the Self-Medication Manufacturers Association of South Africa (SMASA).
What are seasonal
when the immune system identifies a foreign substance, such as dust or pollen,
incorrectly, then classifies it as harmful and treats it as such,” explains
Hay fever in particular is the result of outdoor allergens
such as pollen, and is periodic in nature. Grass is one of the main triggers of
hay fever in summer, with allergic conjunctivitis (the allergic inflammation of
the delicate membrane covering the inner and external part of the eyelid) being
the most common seasonal allergy. More prevalent among those with asthma,
eczema and hay fever, its symptoms include redness and excessive watering of
the eyes, swelling of the eyelids and whites of the eye, and itchiness.
cause similar symptoms to summer allergies i.e. an itchy nose and eyes,
sneezing and watery eyes, and are generally triggered by the use of heaters or
fireplaces – the mould spores and insect parts that are often trapped in these
objects are released into the air and find their way into the nose, setting off
a reaction. Other indoor triggers are animals and mites.
The problem with winter allergy symptoms is that they can
easily be misdiagnosed as a common cold or flu. If symptoms persist for longer
than 10 days, it is more likely an allergy than a cold or flu. If not treated
and medicated correctly, allergies can linger for weeks or even months.
“Following the timeline of how and when irritations start
can highlight whether someone is a seasonal allergy sufferer,” says Veinings.
“The best remedy for allergies would obviously be to avoid allergens
completely, however as this is not always possible, a sound knowledge of
self-medication and responsible self-care is key for hay fever sufferers,” she
advocates responsible self-care throughout the year, suggests the following
actions to maintain a solid self-care routine during allergy season:
• Keep a pack
of tissues on hand for days when allergies are at their worst.
• Use eye
drops to relieve itchy, watery eyes.
• Use an
antihistamine to reduce nasal itching, sneezing and discharge.
• Use a
decongestant during winter to clear mucus.
As with any ailment or illness, prevention is better than
cure. Consult your local pharmacist, nurse or health professional for the
correct over-the-counter products to manage hay fever and other seasonal
allergies and schedule an appointment with your doctor if symptoms persist.