Sniffles: It could be a tough season for hay-fever sufferers. Picture: Shelly Kongstad
The persistent sneezing, the annoying runny nose and scratchy throat is enough to dull even the most positive person’s mood.

But allergy sufferers will know that these symptoms don’t alter just one’s mood, but can have a debilitating effect on their ability to go about their day-to-day activities.

And with the seasonal weather changes already afoot, it could be a tough season for hay-fever sufferers who don’t have a battle plan in place as they face the onslaught of the sneezing season.

So warns Pharma Dynamics - a pharmaceutical company specialising in generic medication - that recently surveyed 2 650 hay fever sufferers aged between 18 and 60, on their plans to outwit the gazillion microscopic pollen spores that have been released into the atmosphere this Spring.

And the results were of “concern”; 42% didn’t have a treatment plan in place, while 48% of those who have been prescribed an allergy medication only plan on taking it when they feel they need to.

The major culprit behind SA’s hay fever woes is grass pollen, because of the long flowering season and also as a consequence of the different grass species that pollinate in response to sunshine hours.

Some grasses pollinate when the daytime hours are longer, some when the hours of light and darkness are equal in length.

This means that grass pollen is in circulation for all but the mid-winter months of the years in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape.

“Allergies can be inherited,” Nicole Jennings, spokesperson for the company said. “For example, a child whose parents have allergies is more likely to develop allergies. However, the environment also plays a role. If you put the wrong genes into the wrong environment you get an explosive mixture that could lead to allergies and asthma,” she continued.

An allergic reaction in essence is the body’s defence mechanism against foreign intruders - allergens or protein(s) - mistakenly perceived as harmful.

Further, the survey revealed that 32% of surveyed sufferers won’t be able to work at some point during spring and were likely to stay away from work as a result of nasal allergy congestion or other hay fever related symptoms such as headaches, puffy and irritated eyes or general fatigue often associated with the seasonal condition.

About 42% said they typically take two days sick leave, while 31% cited three to four days and 28% generally put in five or more days to recover.

The pharmaceutical company had the below advice for allergy sufferers:

* Get pollen-wise: check the pollen forecast in your area or holiday spot to plan your outdoor activities and avoid being outside when the pollen count is highest, which is usually early in the morning and evening. Remember to keep doors and windows closed during peak pollen times.

* When the outdoors beckon: apply balm or petroleum jelly around the rim of your nose which can act as a pollen-trap. Alternatively, block pollen and other irritants by wearing a mask or bandanna over your nose and mouth. If the pollen count is very high, opt for less intense exercises.

* Travelling by plane: make sure your epinephrine injection has not expired and always carry a spare. Pack these in your hand luggage along with a supply of antihistamines. 

If you are prone to anaphylaxis, obtain a written letter from your doctor explaining why the medicine you carry is essential, to ensure you don’t get delayed at customs. 

If you’re travelling alone, let the pilot or air hostess know of your condition. Do the same if you’re travelling with friends and make sure they know how to administer the emergency medication. Using a saline nasal spray every hour could also help keep your nasal membranes moist.

* Planning a road trip: turn your car’s air conditioner on 10 minutes before you get in the car, preferably with the windows open, which will help remove dust and mould from the air-conditioning (AC) system. Keep car windows closed when driving to prevent pollen from entering the car.

* Staying at a hotel: bring your own hypo-allergenic pillow and mattress cover or ask for an allergy-proof room where no smoking or pets are allowed.

* Avoid red and swollen eyes: protect your eyes during the day by wearing sunglasses and rinsing contact lenses to get rid of dust and pollen particles. If your allergies have left you with itchy, red eyes, take eye-drops to reduce symptoms.