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Health: Hay fever proof your body; This summer's going to be a real stinker for sneezers, but all is not lost. Try our eight-point survival guide to beat the pollen invasion.

Byline: HELEN FOSTER

IF you're one of the red-nosed, streaming-eyed, sneezing brigade, there's bad news ahead. Pollen counts are up five times this year so you're in for a sniffly summer.

Already 12 million Brits (one in five) get hay fever. And figures are set to go up even further thanks to the pollen count which rocketed during our hot, dry April.

Last year's foot-and-mouth crisis reduced the number of grazing animals leaving plentiful supplies of hay fever inducing grassland. But this year it's tree pollen which is the culprit.

While this is disastrous for sufferers, it's also not ideal for the rest of us either.

Some allergy experts think that we have a genetic set point of pollen we can tolerate, but exceed it and hay fever hits. It doesn't take much to work out that if pollen levels become higher than ever before, so will the number of new sufferers.

Well, that is if you don't protect yourself. Most sufferers think hay fever is inevitable, but strengthening your system against attack can reduce or eliminate symptoms - or prevent you from becoming one of this year's new victims.

Like all allergies, hay fever is an abnormal reaction by the body's immune system to a normally harmless substance - in this case pollen. What happens is that cells called IgE antibodies that normally fight bacteria see pollen as something that needs to be attacked.

When exposed to a certain level of pollen they release histamine and other chemicals to fight the invader. "This is like a hand grenade going off in the body," says Jonathan Brostoff, professor of allergy and environmental health at King's College London.

"It triggers a whole host of symptoms including sneezing, itchy eyes, runny noses and even irritability and fatigue."

So why does it occur? Well, as yet no one really knows but it looks to be a genetic problem. It seems that many - if not all - of us have programmed into our genes the ability to become allergic to pollen (or other allergens like dust, cats or shellfish) once we are exposed to a certain amount of them

over our lifetime. In some people that "amount" is set so high they will never suffer. But in those who have hay fever from childhood the set point is fairly low. For the rest of us, it could be reached at any time. In fact, US research says 20 per cent of 20-40 year olds develop new hay fever symptoms each year and once the allergy has occurred it will continue to be triggered from then on. Nutritionist Patrick Holford says: "For most hay fever sufferers pollen is in the air for weeks or months before they start to suffer. They don't break out in symptoms at the first sniff and what this means is that if you can stop your body reaching its threshold you can also stop - or at least reduce - your symptoms." For this to happen, the experts say, you need to reduce your exposure to pollen and related allergens. You also need to strengthen your immune system so the pollen you are exposed to doesn't provoke such a dramatic reaction. So, how do you do that? You follow our eight point plan to a sneeze free summer - whether you're already a hay fever sufferer or not.

THE PLAN 1

Reduce your pollen exposure:The more pollen you are exposed to the faster you'll reach your pollen threshold - but avoiding pollen doesn't mean you have to stay in all day, everyday.

Windy days have higher pollen counts than still ones and beach resorts have less pollen than rural or urban areas. But whatever the weather or wherever you live just reducing outside activity during the times pollen is at its peak will help cut exposure levels. "Which means staying in and closing windows, early morning and evening,' says Professor Brostoff. "The more humid the air the lower pollen is on the ground and the more it will affect you. But as the sun comes up, the air dries out and pollen rises reducing levels and its potential effects. You'll be much less likely to get symptoms at lunchtime." If you do need to go out when pollen counts are high, smearing a little Vaseline inside your nose helps trap pollen and prevent it entering the system. Sunglasses also help to prevent itchy eyes.

2

Take your antihistamines early:Most of us only start taking antihistamines when our hay fever symptoms hit but according to Dr Rita Mirakian from the department of immunology at St Bartholomew's Hospital, London, we should be taking them before the sniffles start. "Clinical trials show that taking a daily antihistamine in the week before your symptoms normally start helps the body build up a defence mechanism to the pollen," she explains.

3

Take a supplement:If you don't like the idea of taking pills when you don't "need" them, independent Swiss research found that hay fever sufferers taking a supplement of the herb

butterbur (also known as petasites hybridus) for two weeks had the same reduction in symptoms as those taking the antihistamine cetirizine. Try Bioforce Petasites Capsules, pounds 6.39 for 30 (01294 277344 for stockists).

4

Beware the offside allergens: According to leading hay fever researcher Dr Bill Franklin, (deviser of the pollen count) many fruits and vegetables are

similar in their genetic make-up to pollen and can fool your body into triggering your symptoms. Apples, melons and stoned fruits like plums and peaches cause the most reactions but carrots, tomatoes and celery have also been linked to hay fever, particularly for people allergic to grass pollen.

Look carefully at your diet to see if you get sneezing, a blocked nose or a itchy throat after eating any foods. If you do, skip them - or try them cooked which seems to cancel out the effect.

Also limit wheat and dairy products during hay fever season. Patrick Holford says: "Many patients I've treated have found lowering intake helps reduce symptoms."

5

Try some antioxidants: While it is claimed a host of supplements can prevent allergies it is not recommended you start popping pills left, right and centre as this can lead to nutrient imbalances. But that doesn't mean you should not use supplements to help.

"Antioxidant nutrients like vitamin A, C and E improve the immune system and prevent it overreacting to the presence of pollen," says Patrick Holford.

One trial published in Ear, Nose And Throat Journal, said 74 per cent of hay fever sufferers found symptoms were reduced after using a daily vitamin C nasal spray - however oral supplements are believed to work just as well. Holford recommends Solgar's Advanced Antioxidant Formula, pounds 9.69 for 30 (01442 890355), plus an extra 1000mg dose of vitamin C.

6

Eat anti-allergy foods: Onions are powerful anti-allergenics, says Ian Marber, aka The Food Doctor. "They contain quercetin an ingredient which has anti-inflammatory properties and has been shown to make the immune system more stable."

In fact, Japanese research showed that cells treated with quercetin released less histamine when exposed to pollen than those without it - and the effect was twice as strong as it was in cells treated with the anti-allergy drug sodium cromoglycyte.

You'll also find quercetin in apples, tea and citrus fruits. Other dietary factors that have been shown to help reduce allergy symptoms are eating oily fish (try for 2-3 portions a week) and increasing dietary levels of magnesium found in leafy green vegetables, nuts and meat.

7

Minimise pollutants: Generally there's less pollen floating around cities than the countryside - yet more urban dwellers suffer hay fever. One rea

son is believed to be pollution. "Pollution damages the cells in the lining of the nose and facilitates the entry of pollen," says Dr Mirakian.

Smoking has a similar effect. Alcohol is also a no-no as it increases nasal congestion. While smoking and drinking are easy to control, pollutants can be trickier. Try walking as far away from the kerb as possible (levels of carbon monoxide are significantly lower 10ft away from the traffic than close to it). While walking down busy roads only breathe through your nose - it acts as a partial filter. Also turn off your car ventilation in traffic - the fan draws air from under your car meaning the air often comes from the exhaust of the car in front.

8

Reduce stress: When we are stressed we tend to overreact to things that wouldn't normally bother us. The same thing happens to your immune system.

The result is that stress aggravates allergies. It's therefore no surprise that studies have shown stress relief methods like hypnotism and yoga have been shown to reduce the incidence of allergies and asthma in sufferers. Help lower your stress levels by spending 15-20 minutes a day relaxing in a hot bath or just sitting still thinking happy thoughts - just don't think of yourself running through beautiful meadows.

According to the Research Council on Complementary Medicine, very susceptible allergy subjects can suffer asthma attacks just thinking of themselves in wheat fields - stick to tropical beaches - as we said, pollen counts are always low on beaches.

Why is hay fever on the increase?

Numbers suffering with hay fever 30 years ago was around 3-4 per cent of the population, now it's 20 per cent. "This is despite the fact that pollen levels have decreased," says Professor Brostoff. The reason is unknown

but a common theory is the hygiene hypothesis - the fact that we are now exposing ourselves to fewer germs. "If your body is exposed to germs the immune system busily fights these off. However in our increasingly sterile world the immune system doesn't meet germs and it's possible that it gets bored. It starts to think, OK what can I fight and creates reactions to harmless objects." Studies show that children who live on farms (where mud and bugs are common) have a lower rate of asthma and hay fever than urban children. So does this mean we should expose ourselves to dirt and grime to beat allergies? Dr Brostoff says: "If children are allowed to be children and get into various messes, they have a stronger immune system than those brought up to fear germs."

What are you allergic to?

According to Dr Rita Mirakian the most important thing any allergy sufferer can do is be sure what they are allergic to. "It helps you take control of your problem and reduce your symptoms." While specialist allergy tests are the best way to do this, when it comes to hay fever it can be helpful to know when your symptoms start. In the UK, two main pollens cause allergy symptoms, tree or grass pollen. Generally, those allergic to tree pollen find their symptoms start in early spring and stop by May. Those allergic to grass will find things begin in late spring carrying on till late summer. But what if you

are still suffering in

November? All year round hay fever symptoms are called perennial rhinitis and can be caused by

everything from dust mites to mould. See your doctor for more advice.And if you do start sneezing..

Take antihistamine

Your pharmacy will have plenty of choice. If you want help choosing the best antihistamine, call ALERT (Allergy, Lifestyle, Education, Research & Treatment) for latest information on the various allergy treatments. Telephone 0870 727 6956 for a free allergy leaflet. Send a SAE to ALERT Allergy Leaflet, PO Box 6, Hampton, TW12 2HH

Get a blood test

If you can identify exactly which pollen you're allergic to, you'll find it easier to avoid. If it's horse chestnut pollen that's the problem, you can change your route to work and not walk down

horse chestnut lined streets.

Clean your house

Dust mites can also trigger hayfever. A good, fine filter vacuum cleaner can pick up tiny dust and pollen particles from carpets and furniture.

The National Pollen Research Unit has a daily pollen forecast on the internet along with a longer term outlook. If the count is going to be particularly high,

start taking antihistamines. http://pollenuk,worc.ac.uk/ Forecast/Index.htm

Try homeopathy

Nat-mur helps violent sneezing and watery runny noses. Euphrasia is used for itchy eyes.

Eat honey

Local honey contains local pollen so will boost your immune system in a similar way to homeopathy or a flu jab. You can also buy bee pollen propolis to sprinkle on your cereal each day.

Use a nose guard

This tiny device fits into the nostrils and filters out pollen so that you don't breathe it in. You'd use it on your way to work then remove it when you arrive in your air conditioned office. It costs pounds 4.99 plus pounds 1.95 postage. Call hayfever guard 01872 870870, www.hayfeverguard.co.uk

Instal - an air cleaner

An electrostatic particle precipitator removes pollen from the air by attaching an electrostatic charge to tiny pollen particles as soon as they stick to a collecting plate. Cleaners cost around pounds 300 from Trion 01264 363622 or visit www.trion.co.uk

Watch the pollen forecast

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:May 2, 2002
Words:2191
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