Woman suffering from hayfever causing sneezing

Colds, Hay fever and Asthma

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.

What is asthma?

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.

What is hay fever?

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.

Managing Asthma and Hay fever

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.

Acute asthma attacks

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:

  1. Take one to two puffs of your reliever inhaler (usually blue), immediately.
  2. Sit down and try to take slow, steady breaths.
  3. If you do not start to feel better, take two puffs of your reliever inhaler (one puff at a time) every two minutes. You can take up to ten puffs.
  4. If you do not feel better after taking your inhaler as above, or if you are worried at any time, call 999.
  5. If an ambulance does not arrive within 10 minutes and you are still feeling unwell, repeat step 3.
  6. If your symptoms improve and you do not need to call 999, you still need to see a doctor or asthma nurse within 24 hours.

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