Hay, fight the fever

8th June 2007 at 01:00
Summer breeze won't make teachers feel fine if they're suffering from hay fever. Steven Hastings reveals ways you can make this time of year more enjoyable.

A touch of the sniffles. A runny nose and itchy eyes. Anyone who hasn't suffered personally, may not take hay fever too seriously. But talk to those with the hankies up their sleeves, and you'll find that the symptoms can easily drive you to distraction.

"Hay fever bungs you up, blurs your vision and stops you sleeping properly," says Maureen Evans, a nurse with Allergy UK. "For a few days, you can cope. But over weeks, it becomes debilitating."

For teachers faced with end-of-year events, trips and exams, hay fever couldn't come at a worse time. "You really need to be full of energy," says Sumeya Patel, an English teacher in Leicester, "but it's not possible if you're sneezing and wheezing. Headaches and constant nose bleeds get you down. The children say: 'bless you, Miss' but in the end even they get fed up."

Like 90 per cent of the UK's 15 million hay fever sufferers, Sumeya is allergic to summer grass pollen. But many have a reaction to tree pollens and mould spores.

"If you're one of the unlucky ones, you can be suffering from February through to October," says Maureen. She has plenty of suggestions for keeping hay fever under control, but some of them are not very practical in school.

You're unlikely to find the time to shower and change your clothes after you've been outdoors, and closing the windows on your sweaty class of 20 won't make you popular, especially while others are lazing around the playing field and reading poetry.

But there are things you can do. Plants release pollen early in the morning. It rises as the day hots up, and falls as the temperature cools.

So the pollen count usually peaks mid-morning and late afternoon. Stay indoors at these times and you should feel a benefit.

You're certainly within your health and safety rights to swap breaktime playground duty for a stint in the dining hall. If you do go outside, then wearing wraparound sunglasses may help - though you'll probably get snide comments from the teenage fashion police. And smearing Vaseline inside your nostrils, while not pleasant, may help block the pollen. When it comes to treatments, most people rely on a combination of nasal sprays, antihistamines and eye drops.

"I used everything going," says Sumeya, "but it's expensive, and the antihistamines made me drowsy." A friend suggested that she try eating local honey.

"I take a teaspoon a day, just like a medicine. I started three years ago, and there's been an improvement each year. This year I've been completely sniffle free," she says.

Taking the sweet option is not without logic. "There's no hard evidence but it's the principle of immunology," says Maureen. "The honey gives you a regular small dose of the pollen you're allergic to, and the body builds up resistance."

Even so, it's the conventional remedies that get her nod of approval.

"Antihistamines are improving all the time," she says, "and nasal steroid sprays are excellent, especially if you use them for a couple of weeks before the symptoms set in. The key is to work out exactly what triggers your allergy, and take pre-emptive action."

EASE YOUR SYMPTOMS THIS SUMMER

Avoid teaching in classrooms close to the school playing fields and ask if ground staff can cut grass after school.

Keep a record of when your hay fever kicks in so you can start treatments well in advance.

Talk to your GP about what's on offer. Some remedies need prescriptions, including the best antihistamines which last for 24 hours and don't cause drowsiness.

To dodge the drugs, try acupuncture or hypnosis.

If nothing seems to work, you could try finding a school by the sea. Pollen counts are usually lower in coastal areas.

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