At the moment I write this post my eyes are swollen, my nose is itchy and leaking, my floor is littered with crumpled up tissues, and I lay in my bed squinting at the brightness of the screen. I reach over to my bedside table to grab another tissue but… disaster strikes. There are no more. An oozy sneeze escapes my mouth, mocking my misfortunes. Oh, how I do love summer. Why is it that at this time of the year so many people mutate into snotty, swollen creatures? It seems like some kind of cruel practical joke so that we unlucky few are unable to fully enjoy our summer vacation.
Hayfever, rather counterintuitively, is not normally caused by hay, and does not usually bring on a fever. The confusion arose in the 1800s when the condition was first discovered and the causes of it were misattributed to the smell of freshly cut hay. More scientifically known as allergic rhinitis, hayfever is suffered by over 1 in 4 people in the UK. This is surprising because only 200 years ago, the illness was unheard of. No one is quite sure what exactly is causing this epidemic, because conventional explanations simply do not fit the facts. Some scientists think that it is because our society as a whole has become much ‘cleaner’, so our immune systems are simply not getting the preparation they need to develop properly in infancy. As a result, our bodies fail to distinguish between harmless dust or pollen and nasty bacteria. Another factor might be due to the decrease in exposure to farms and agriculture.
Allergic rhinitis itself is triggered by tiny environmental allergens such as pollen or dust. When they enter our bodies through the mouth or nose, our immune systems detect them incorrectly as a threat, and respond as if they were harmful bacteria. Our body produces an antibody called immunoglobulin E to attack it, which then release inflammatory chemicals such as histamine which cause the dreaded symptoms. The reason hayfever seems so prevalent in the summertime is due to the increase of pollen production by plants that are flowering at this time. They release millions of tiny pollen particles that become airborne and can spread about easily. On humid and windy days, this pollen will be able to spread about even faster, but on more rainy days, the pollen levels will fall. Thank god for awful British weather.
There are numerous treatment options out there, which may or may not be of any comfort. These include eye drops, nasal sprays, and even immunotherapy where a patient’s immune system is gradually desensitised to triggering allergens. However, if you’re more like me and can’t be bothered to read the label – wear a hat, stay away from grass and regularly splash your eyes with water to clear them of pollen. Or just lock all your windows and hide in your room. I won’t judge.