Fifteen per cent of the population suffers from hay fever - seven million people. In fact, calling it hay fever is a complete misnomer: the allergy has nothing to do with hay or fever.
It's medical name is actually seasonal allergic rhinitis, caused by an allergy to grass or tree pollen. Oaks and elms and other deciduous trees pollinate between late February and April, which is why some people get hay fever in the spring. Grass usually pollinates later, the peak period being mid-June to July. The torment of hay fever at least means that a wide range of treatments is available. There's no need to suffer.
Sticking fine needles into the skin sends messages to the central nervous system. It also releases a morphine-like substance in the brain which relieves pain, as well as releasing mood-altering substances in the body. It can change the immune system so the body will fight back.
In general, needles will be stuck in your hands, feet and close to the nose. During the first season you may need to have a series of sessions, but if treatment can be given before the season starts next time round, you should need only one or two sessions.
It is important to find a qualified practitioner who is registered with the BMAS (British Medical Acupuncture Society). Before going see your GP and have a proper diagnosis. Have him refer you to someone on the BMAS register.
The British Medical Acupuncture Society, Newton House, Newton Lane, Whitley, Warrington, Cheshire WA44 JA (0925 730727).
A popular method is to have a home treatment in a small bottle with a dropper. This is a mixture which you can be inhaled on a tissue throughout the day. Alternatively, you can use some drops in a oil burner or in the bath. You can also have oils put in a 'carrier', which is an oil or lotion for the face.
Oils commonly prescribed for hay fever are lavender (to keep pollen at bay), camomile (helpful in treating allergies), as well as peppermint and eucalyptus (which clear the head). The oils work because they are inhaled straight into the lungs, an area directly affected by hay fever. Also, when breathed in through the nose, they pass over the olfactory nerve and have an immediate effect on the whole body.
For information send an A5 SAE to The Aromatherapy Organisations Council, 3 Latymer Close, Braybrooke, Market Harborough, Leicester LE16 8LN.
CHINESE HERBAL MEDICINE
Treatment involves personalised prescriptions to address the type of 'heat', 'wind' and 'dampness' in a person's body.
Herbs frequently prescribed are hu xiang, a common leafy stemmed herb, bai zhi, a sliced root similar to angelica, xing yi hua, a flower bud similar to magnolia and cang er zi, a type of seed. These herbs are mixed with others and are boiled and reboiled before being drunk twice a day.
The mixture can be an unpalatable brew, a taste for which devotees of Chinese herbal medicine say must be acquired.
The Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine on (081-904 1357).
What people eat or don't eat can make a difference. Reducing your intake of wheat (bread, pasta, flour etc) can help, and reducing dairy products decreases mucus production. A further tactic involves getting honey from a local beekeeper which works as 'hair of the dog that bit you' remedy. Minute grains of pollen in the honey have a calming effect on the immune system.
Herbs that a herbalist would prescribe include ephedra sinica, a plant with anti-allergenic properties. Ephodrin is commonly included in over-the-counter cold remedies. Nettles are also known to have an anti-histamine effect and peppermint is good for opening the nasal passages. Eyebright is a good nasal astringent and elderflower tea has been used for years as a traditional hay fever remedy.
The National Institute of Medical Herbalists, 9 Palace Gate, Exeter, EX1 1JA (0392 426022).
Hypnotherapy is used to treat hay fever, though reports and case studies are anecdotal as far as research goes. Treatment is not guaranteed to work. If the hay fever and allergies are biologically based, a patient may only respond partially to hypnosis. If the problem is psychological and caused by stress, the theory is that the immune system can be enhanced by suggestion under hypnosis. The hypnotist will talk to you to make every part of the body relax. Once under, the therapist will make suggestions. For hay fever these would include strengthening the immune system.
As there are no controls in this field, it is important to find a hypnotherapist who is registered with the National Register of Hypno-therapists and Psychotherapists (NRHP).
The National Register of Hypnotherapists and Psychotherapists (0282 699378).
There are various treatments available for hay fever sufferers, which range from drugs that will let you off the hook if you're a mild and or new sufferer, to treatments for people with regular and recurring hay fever.
These can be bought over the counter in most chemists. The oldest drug on sale is Piraton (which is a sedative), but Triludan, Hismanal and Clarityn are newer drugs which are designed to be less sedating.
Organ specific treatments
If hay fever strikes one specific organ, such as the nose or eyes, a number of drugs are available. For eyes Hypromellose, or 'artificial tears', can wash the pollen from the eyes. Otherwise sodiumchromoglycate drops can also be bought without prescription. These are also available in nasal form. For the nose, Beconase is available: this is a steroid and is not absorbed into the body. If you get wheezy from hay fever, then you have pollen asthma, in which case you should see your GP.
Depot steroid injections
These are intramuscular injections, usually into the thigh. They last four to six weeks, are available only on prescription and can be administered only by a nurse or your GP. They are the last resort for anyone inca-pacitated by hay fever.
This is the bottom line in hay fever treatment and is only used on people with serious, recurrent symptoms. The treatment involves a series of injections of increasing strengths of the pollen itself. This must be done before the actual pollen season starts and can be administered only at an allergy clinic by a trained allergist. While this method has its advantages, the high dosages can cause adverse reactions in a small number of patients, but this can be reversed with an injection of adrenalin.
St Mary's Hospital Praed St W2 (071-725 6666) Allergy clinic ext 1105.
The Royal Brompton Hospital Sydney St SW3 (071-352 8121); allergy clinic ext 3103.
The Royal Hospital St Bartholemew's West Smithfield EC1 (071-601 8888); allergy clinic ext 7402.
The Middlesex Hospital Mortimer St W1N (071-636 8333); allergy clinic ext 9197.
The Meteorological Office has a number to ring for the daily pollen count: 0891 500429.