Latest figures from the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) reveal a huge spike in the number of patients seeing their GP for hay fever type symptoms or allergic rhinitis – at the same time last year, around 5,560 people visited their GP in England and Wales, compared with the latest statistics of 11,873.
This represents a mammoth 114% jump from the same time last year. Figures from the College’s Research and Surveillance Centre, which monitors trends in diseases through patient consultations at GP surgeries, show a three-fold increase in hay fever in the second week of June, compared to the previous week, and a five-fold increase in the past fortnight.
Mid-June traditionally marks the start of the hay fever season as pollen is released into the air, causing misery for millions across the country. Most affected are children aged five to 14 years, closely followed by people between 15 and 24 years – with both age groups experiencing symptoms up to more than four times that of other age groups.
Hay fever traditionally develops in school-age children during the teenage years and these groups are more likely to visit a GP with hay fever symptoms rather than using over the counter treatments.
Caused by an allergy to pollens, hay fever is estimated to affect about 2 in 10 people in the UK. Grass pollen is the most common cause and tends to affect people every year from around May to July. Tree pollens tend to affect people from March to May and weed pollens from early spring to early autumn.
Symptoms include sneezing, a runny nose and itchy eyes, caused by the immune system reacting to the pollen. Cells on the lining of the nose and eyes release histamine and other chemicals, causing inflammation in the nose (rhinitis) and eyes (conjunctivitis). Sometimes the sinuses and throat can also be affected.
Maureen Baker, Chair of the RCGP said: “Each year, seasonal hay fever causes untold misery to thousands of people across the country, especially when we all want to enjoy the warm weather.
“Hay fever is awful but the discomfort should only be temporary and there should be no long-term effects. Whilst in some cases it may be necessary to see a doctor, especially if the symptoms persist, there are many anti-histamine medications that can be bought over the counter at your pharmacist that should provide effective relief.
"Patients that suffer from hay fever can also take simple steps to help minimise their exposure to pollen, such as wearing a hat with a wide brim and sunglasses, and to applying Vaseline to nostrils to help trap pollen particles.”