By Ndileka Swakamisa
It could be a tough season for hayfever sufferers that don’t have a battle plan in place as they face the onslaught of the sneezing and streaming season.
So warns Pharma Dynamics – one of SA’s leading providers of allergy medication – that recently surveyed 2 650 hayfever sufferers on their plans to outwit the gazillion microscopic pollen spores that have been released into the atmosphere this spring.
Of those polled, a concerning 42% don’t have a treatment plan in place, while 48% of those that have been prescribed an allergy medication only plan on taking it when they feel they need to.
Nicole Jennings, spokesperson for Pharma Dynamics says to reduce symptoms, which typically include intense itching of the nose, eyes, palate, ears and throat with repetitive bouts of sneezing, profuse watery nose and tearing, the use of preventative treatments, such as antihistamines and nasal sprays should be taken early on in the season and as prescribed to effectively relieve symptoms.
“The number one reason why some sufferers may not be medicating hayfever symptoms could be because they saw no result in the past.
“Non-adherence plays a big role in rendering medications (of all kind) ineffective. Some patients may be resistant to using their prescribed or over-the-counter (OTC) medication on a regular basis, while others try a medication for two to three days, get no relief, and stop usage even though it may take up to two weeks to reduce symptoms. Then there are also those that stop using their medication when symptoms abate, only to become symptomatic again. It’s important for patients to understand the safety and efficacy profile of all medications, including that of allergy treatments.
“Another mistake people make with their allergy medicine is simply forgetting to take it. To prevent this common problem try link the time you take your allergy treatment to another regular activity, such as brushing your teeth or eating breakfast, to help you remember.
“Taking medicine improperly could also decrease the efficacy of a treatment. Very few people know how to properly use a nasal spray or inhaler, which have to be activated and used properly. Little things like the direction of the spray is critically important,” she says.
The major culprit behind SA’s hayfever 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.
The tree pollen season is shorter than the grass season, but may occur as early as May or June when cypress trees start to pollinate. Oak and plane trees typically follow.
According to Jennings, these alien trees are planted in many South African cities and it is these wind pollinated Northern Hemisphere trees that trigger the symptoms of hay fever and conjunctivitis, rather than our indigenous trees, which are largely insect or bird pollinated. “Wind pollinated tree and grass pollen grains are released into the atmosphere in large numbers.”
Another way to alleviate symptoms is to avoid exposure to the allergen. Jennings recommends that you stay indoors when pollen counts are high (in general pollen levels are highest in the afternoon and begin to subside as the sun sets) and rather use an aircon inside the office, home or car for ventilation than opening the windows during peak times.
Pharma Dynamics’ survey further found that 32% of surveyed sufferers won’t be able to work at some point during the spring and are likely to stay away from work as a result of nasal allergy congestion or other hayfever 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.
“Pollen is a trigger for an estimated 30% of South Africans and can in severe cases, trigger a fatal attack. Uncontrolled hayfever or allergic rhinitis will adversely affect asthma making chest symptoms more difficult to control. Allergies don’t cut you any slack, so stick to your regimen till the worst of the season is over,” advises Jennings.