Hay Fever and Seasonal Allergies in Bloom

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Published: 10 December 2020

As Springtime begins, it is important for health professionals to consider the care that may be required for conditions relevant to or anticipated for the season.

Seasonal allergies are expected to affect many Australians in spring. Allergic rhinitis (or hay fever) and asthma can be triggered by the increase of pollen in the air (ASCIA 2020).

Birds, bees and even the wind spread pollen grains over distances. Most allergy-causing pollen is airborne pollen from northern hemisphere grasses, trees and weeds. Interestingly, Australian native plants are less allergenic than some pasture grasses and exotic trees (ASCIA 2020).

Other than through exposure to pollen, allergic rhinitis symptoms can also be caused by dust mites, household pets and mould growth. (National Asthma Council Australia 2017).

Hay Fever (Allergic Rhinitis) Facts

  • Around 18% of Australians and New Zealanders are affected by allergic rhinitis;
  • People who suffer from allergic rhinitis are also predisposed to more frequent sinus infections;
  • Additionally, people with allergic rhinitis often suffer from fatigue due to their quality of sleep being affected;
  • Moderate or severe allergic rhinitis is also considered to:
    • Impair learning and performance in children;
    • Result in more frequent absenteeism in adults and reduced productivity; and
    • Cause considerable impairment in quality of life.

(ASCIA 2020)

Hay Fever and Asthma

Allergic rhinitis can inflame asthma symptoms and make them more difficult to control. A large majority of people with asthma (about 80%) have allergic rhinitis.

hay fever pollen

Signs and Symptoms of Hay Fever

  • Runny or congested nose;
  • Watery, itchy eyes;
  • Throat, ear and palate itchiness;
  • Irritated nasal passages, mouth and throat;
  • Head-cold symptoms;
  • Hoarse voice;
  • Bad breath;
  • Mouth-breathing and snoring;
  • Facial pain and pressure;
  • Headaches;
  • Frequent middle ear infections;
  • Daytime tiredness; and
  • Coughing.

(ASCIA 2020; National Asthma Council Australia 2017)

Anyone who develops wheezing needs to promptly seek medical attention from a qualified medical doctor for assessment and treatment (ASCIA 2020).

Where are Pollen Counts Highest in Australia?

Victoria’s south coast can get high pollen counts from the northerly winds, bringing pollen from the grasslands. Eastern Australia is somewhat protected from westerly winds by the Great Dividing Range (ASCIA 2020).

South Australia and Western Australia have varying pollen counts depending on the wind direction. Some of the grasses in southern Australian areas are grasses from the Northern Hemisphere that chiefly flower from October to December (ASCIA 2020).

From late July to early August, the White Cypress Pine flowers. This is the only Australian tree that creates 'highly allergenic' pollen (ASCIA 2020).

Wattle gets blamed for lots of Spring allergies, but skin prick tests rarely indicate that this is actually to blame. Lots of Casuarina and Australian Oak tree species lead to pollen-related year-round allergenic rhinitis – not just spring allergies (ASCIA 2020).

Preventing Pollen Exposure

  • Wear sunglasses;
  • Have someone else mow the lawn and stay indoors when the lawn is being mowed;
  • Have low-allergenic plants in the gardens;
  • Shut windows and doors of the home, building or car and use recirculated air conditioning;
  • It is preferable to stick to the coast for holidays, or otherwise not to holiday during pollen-season;
  • Stay inside the house until after noon;
  • Avoid going outside when winds or thunderstorms are in progress or have just finished; and
  • Access pollen calendars such as the one available from ASCIA.

(ASCIA 2020)

The National Asthma Council Australia (2017) also states that cigarette smoke should be avoided to prevent allergic rhinitis and asthma. Health professionals who do smoke should change their clothes before returning to work with clients and other staff members. Likewise, smoking areas should not be near entry points to the healthcare site.

Healthcare settings may consider implementing wind-barriers and incorporating low-allergenic plants into their gardens and landscaping.

Treating Hay Fever

The following treatment options should occur under the guidance of appropriate medical officers:

  • Antihistamines;
  • Intranasal corticosteroid nasal sprays;
  • Decongestant sprays and medications;
  • Saline nasal sprays or douches; and
  • Desensitisation allergen immunotherapy with a clinical immunology/allergen specialist.

(ASCIA 2020)

Patients should inform their health practitioner if they are pregnant when seeking treatment for allergic rhinitis and/or asthma (National Asthma Council Australia 2017).

Additional Resources


References

Author

Portrait of Madeline Gilkes
Madeline Gilkes

Madeline Gilkes, CDE, RN, is a Fellow of the Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine. She focused her Master of Healthcare Leadership research project on health coaching for long-term weight loss in obese adults. Madeline has found a passion for preventative nursing. She has transitioned from leadership roles (CNS Gerontology & Education, Clinical Facilitator) in the acute/hospital setting to education management and primary healthcare. Madeline’s vision is to implement lifestyle medicine to prevent and treat chronic conditions. Her research proposal for her PhD involves Lifestyle Medicine for Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Madeline is a Credentialled Diabetes Educator (CDE) and primarily works in the academic role of Head of Nursing. Madeline’s philosophy focuses on using humanistic management, adult learning theories/evidence and self-efficacy theories and interventions to promote positive learning environments. In addition to her Master of Healthcare Leadership, Madeline has a Graduate Certificate in Diabetes Education & Management, Graduate Certificate in Adult & Vocational Education, Graduate Certificate of Aged Care Nursing, and a Bachelor of Nursing. She is working towards her PhD. See Educator Profile