Have you developed an irritating dry cough? Do you feel generally run down? Or perhaps you feel like you may be starting a summer cold.
It may be that the symptoms that you are experiencing are not in fact those of a cold, but asthma or hay fever or even both of these conditions combined.
There has been a lot of coverage in the news recently about the seemingly sudden increase in the numbers of adults developing the symptoms of both hay fever and asthma. Approximately 5.4 million people in the UK suffer with asthma, that is, 1 in 5 of us. Reasons for this increase in sufferers are not entirely clear with a variety of theories postulated from increase in pollution, to modern lifestyles and excessive sanitation interfering with our immune responses.
Many of us may not realise that our irritating little cough may indeed be a symptom of asthma, which can be life threatening if not recognised and treated.
The recent spells of good dry weather has brought on the grass pollen season earlier than usual and this has overlapped with the tree pollen season which began in early March. This, coupled with the spell of smog a few weeks ago has left many people struggling to breathe effectively.
Asthma is a chronic condition caused by the muscles in the air passages going into spasm in response to irritation (known as trigger). This causes the air passages to narrow. Additionally, the lining of these passages becomes inflamed and start to swell and also produces a lot of sticky mucus. This causes a sensation of tightness in the chest, accompanied by breathlessness, a dry irritating cough and wheeze.
Hay fever can be an extremely unpleasant condition. While it isn’t life threatening it is uncomfortable to have continually streaming nose and eyes and an itchy sore throat. It can cause headaches and a feeling of being generally unwell and listless. Hay fever or seasonal rhinitis to give it its proper name, is caused by allergies to pollen or spores. Hay fever symptoms include: itchy streaming eyes, sore throat and sneezing, itchy, blocked or runny nose.
If you are suffering from these symptoms it may be worthwhile having a chat to your GP or practice nurse to get advice on any treatments. Asthma needs to be formally diagnosed so that treatment plans can be put in place and progress monitored effectively.
Hay fever however, can often be managed by using over the counter anti-histamine tablets and nasal sprays. Your local pharmacist may also be able to advise you on what is best for you. General advice is to keep windows and doors closed during early morning and late evening when pollen levels rise, and to dry washing indoors, so that clothes do not become contaminated with pollen. Wearing sunglasses can help to avoid eye irritation.
Asthma UK have issued the following guidelines which are suitable for both children and adults and are the recommended steps to follow in an asthma attack:
Food allergies appear to be on the increase. A new study out this week stated that some 25,000 people are affected by a peanut allergy, with children aged between 5-9, the most likely to be affected and boys from wealthier backgrounds more likely to have it than girls.
According to the Anaphylaxis Campaign more than 18 million people in the UK are affected by allergy at some time in their lives. Approximately 1 million of those will have severe, life threatening allergies.
Common triggers include:
Symptoms often include:
Food-related allergies are becoming an increasing problem. Those affected must continually read the ingredient list every time they buy products, as recipes and production methods can vary. It’s not just foods that can be affected either. Allergens can appear in a wide variety of other things too including skin products, medicines and cosmetics.Labels such as “may contain nuts” or “produced in a factory that handles nuts” do not help the allergy sufferer much as it reduces the amount of foodstuffs that are available to them. It is not worth ignoring the warning and taking the risk as small traces of the allergens may be present.