Hay fever warning for people with asthma

Over 300,000 people have both conditions
  • Deborah Condon

People with both asthma and hay fever need to ensure that their hay fever is managed well during pollen season, as it can cause the symptoms of asthma "to escalate into a serious asthma attack".

The Asthma Society of Ireland has launched its annual Hay Fever Campaign for the 304,000 people in Ireland who have both conditions.

"For the majority of people who have hay fever, they may describe the condition as being annoying, but would usually not described it as life-threatening. However, for the 304,000 people who have both, unmanaged hay fever can be just that.

"Hay fever symptoms are capable of causing asthma symptoms to escalate into a serious asthma attack, which in some case can be fatal. One person dies every week in Ireland from asthma," explained the society's CEO, Sarah O'Connor.

She said that people with both conditions need to ensure that their hay fever is well managed throughout pollen season, which runs from now until September.

A pollen tracker is available on the society's website here, and people are encouraged to visit it every day.

"Our pollen tracker will allow people to recognise the days that require additional precautions for managing their hay fever. For the 80% of people with asthma who also have hay fever, they should visit the tracker daily," Ms O'Connor said.

This year's hay fever campaign is also helping people to know the difference between hay fever and COVID-19 symptoms.

To this end, the society has been working with its medical advisory group to create a ‘Know Your Symptoms Chart', which will allow people with asthma and COPD to recognise if their symptoms point to hay fever or to COVID-19. This resource is available here.

"As we come into hay fever season, it's important to know the crossovers between hay fever, asthma and coronavirus symptoms, but also to have help differentiating symptoms between the three.

"The Asthma Society's graphic clearly outlines what symptoms are strongly or occasionally associated with COVID-19, hay fever, asthma and COPD, to help support patients as they seek to learn more," explained Dr Dermot Nolan, asthma lead with the Irish College of General Practitioners and a member of the Asthma Society's medical advisory group.

He said that common COVID-19 symptoms include feeling unwell, a temperature, a slight shortness of breath, or a persistent cough. Common symptoms of hay fever are itchy eyes, itchy throat and a running nose.

The loss of smell and loss of taste can be symptoms of both.

"There are also noticeable differences between COVID-19 and hay fever symptoms. For example, the COVID-19 cough is persistent, while a hay fever cough tends to occur at night time. Hayfever sufferers don't usually feel unwell or tired, but these are common symptoms of COVID-19.

"When a patient has COVID-19, they tend to feel flu-like aches, pains or chills in their body, which is not typical of hay fever. Many people have also identified tiredness as a feature of COVID-19. The tiredness that hay fever sufferers experience is related to patients taking certain antihistamines and not the condition itself," Dr Nolan noted.

Some tips to help manage hay fever include:

-Talk to your doctor or pharmacist now about taking medication to prevent/ reduce symptoms. Do not wait until you feel unwell
-Keep windows shut in your bedroom at night
-Keep windows and doors closed and stay indoors as much as possible when the pollen count is high
-Stay away from grassy areas, especially when grass is freshly cut
-Put Vaseline around your nostrils to trap pollen
-Wear wraparound sunglasses to stop pollen getting into your eyes
-Shower, wash your hair and change your clothes if you have been outside for an extended period of time
-Avoid drying clothes outdoors, or shake them outdoors before bringing them in
-Minimise your contact with pets that have been outdoors and are likely to be carrying pollen.

If people with asthma or COPD have any questions, they can use the society's new Beating Breathlessness WhatsApp patient support service, which allows people to message a respiratory specialist nurse to get support, advice and information about asthma, COPD, COVID-19 and hay fever. This free WhatsApp service is available on 086 059 0132.

People who would prefer to speak to a nurse can call the society's free Asthma and COPD Adviceline on 1800 44 54 64.

The society's pollen tracker can be viewed here.


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