Why is my hay fever so bad? How 'super pollen' might be making your allergies worse right now

Very high levels of pollen this year is causing hay fever in a huge number of people, even those who have never had it - ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan speaks to a few who have been affected

A "pollen bomb" over the UK is causing increased misery for hay fever sufferers, with people reporting worse than usual symptoms.

The Met Office has warned of very high pollen levels across most of England and Wales this week as temperatures rise.

Different species of grass are now releasing pollen into the air hot on the heels of the spring release of tree pollen.

For those suffering from itchy eyes and a runny nose, is this summer worse than usual?

Emma Rubach, head of health advice at Asthma and Lung UK, told ITV News Presenter Lucrezia Millarini why hay fever suffers may feel that their symptoms are worse this year.

Is the pollen season worse this summer?A warm but wet May could have contributed to particularly aggressive pollen grains, according to the Met Office - although it adds that "the answer isn’t as straightforward as you might think".Speaking to the Weather Snap podcast, Met Office Relationship Manager for Health and Air Quality, Yolanda Clewlow said: “In terms of the numbers of pollen grains in the air, what we’re seeing isn’t especially noteworthy compared to what we’ve had in previous years. However, the potency of these pollen grains could be more intense this year, and that comes down to the weather we’ve had in spring.

“A warm and wet May, coupled with a relatively warm spring, means there’s a chance that the pollen that has developed is particularly potent, even if the amounts aren’t dramatically different.”

The rising temperatures coupled with a gentle breeze to blow the pollen around creates the perfect recipe for a "pollen bomb".

Credit: PA images

When is hay fever season?

There are actually three hay fever seasons:

  • Tree pollen: late March to mid-May

  • Grass: mid-May until July

  • Weed pollen: end of June to September

Grass pollen season has two peaks, one of which is around now, and affects 95% of hay fever sufferers.

Ms Clewlow said: “The grass pollen season usually follows quite a consistent pattern and there tends to be two peaks, one in the first half of June and then another one in early July.

"That’s because we have about 150 different species of grass and they all flower at different times over spring and summer, although only some of them are allergenic.”

It is thought climate change may be leading to an extension of the grass and tree pollen season, with it starting earlier.

It is thought climate change may be leading to an extension of the grass and tree pollen season, with it starting earlier. Credit: AP

What is thunder fever?

Over the weekend, people with asthma and allergies like hay fever were warned of "thunder fever" as grass pollen season combines with warm and dry weather.

Thunderstorms can exacerbate hay fever symptoms as they can stir up pollen grains and disperse a large amount of pollen into the atmosphere.

High winds release higher levels of pollens and pollution particles into the air, and when these grains come into contact with water the pollen breaks down into smaller particles that  are released into the air. These tiny particles can be breathed in, causing an asthmatic reaction.

Most people with hay fever will feel their normal symptoms, like sneezing, runny nose and itchy eyes but hay fever can make asthma symptoms worse, and these weather conditions can cause difficulty breathing and chest tightening.

Ms Clewlow said that while "pollen bomb" and "super pollen" had "no scientific basis", there is ongoing research into the the effect of thundery conditions on hay fever symptoms.“What is being looked at is something called thunderstorm asthma, which isn’t well understood globally, but it’s looking at how, in very specific conditions, there’s a chance that thunder and lightning can increase the symptoms of those with hay fever.

"Whether that’s down to airflows or lightning splitting pollen grains open, it’s too early to say, but it’s something that is in active research with our health partners.”

How can I manage my hay fever symptoms?

Allergy expert Dr Sophie Farooque told ITV's GMB on Monday that how people treat their hay fever depends on the severity of the symptoms.

She said taking an antihistamine will help many, but people should avoid chlorpheniramine due to its "sedating" effect. Dr Farooque, author of Understanding Allergy, also suggests wearing a mask outside and using a saline nasal rinse regularly.

Charity Allergy UK also recommends nasal sprays to help reduce an itchy and running nose. It is important these sprays are used correctly to get the maximum benefit.

What are the symptoms of hay fever?

There are many signs of hay fever and each person experiences different symptoms in different ways - even your pets can be allergic to pollen and their symptoms are different to ours.

Common symptoms include sneezing, runny or blocked nose, itchy eyes, mouth and throat whilst less common hay fever symptoms can include headaches and hives.

If you have asthma the symptoms can be more intense and you might also have a tight feeling in your chest and be short of breath.

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