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HayfeverHello Summer, Hello Hay Fever

Yay, summer – hours spent swinging, swimming, and soaking up the sun! Sadly the silly season isn't such a fun time for hay fever sufferers. Immunologist and Allergy Specialist, Dr Andrew Baker, has some advice on minimising the harm.

Q: Is summer the peak time for hay fever?
Spring through to summer is the peak time for hay fever. The medical term we would use for this is allergic rhinitis (nose) and allergic conjunctivitis (eyes) due to grasses and tree pollens. In general, for those that are allergic to tree pollens, the peak time is early spring, usually August/September, and often only for a couple of weeks. For those who are grass allergic, grass pollens are around from September until March, with a peak in October and November, so these are often the worst months.

Q: What are hay fever rates like in NZ and how do they compare with the rest of the world?
New Zealand has a very high rate of allergic rhinitis/hay fever, with up to 30% of people suffering to some degree. While for many this can be mild and not a major problem, a large number also have severe or debilitating symptoms at times, affecting quality of life and causing missed days at school and work, and severe fatigue. We are one of the worst affected countries for hay fever. The high level of dust mites in our homes (which causes year round allergic rhinitis) may be partly the cause.

Q: Who is most likely to be affected by hay fever?
Hay fever is more common in children, but 50% will not grow out of it and it will persist right throughout their adult lives.

Q: What can people do to protect themselves/ their children from hay fever during the summer months?
It is very difficult to avoid pollen because it is everywhere over spring and summer. Generally speaking, pollen avoidance does not work. I would recommend being mindful of times when further exposure is likely to occur and taking an antihistamine before this exposure rather than once the symptoms occur. Examples include driving in the car on a dry spring or summer's day (remember to put the airflow on recycle), or if you're going out into the country/fields...

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Issue: Summer 2015