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Three million Australian adults – 15% of the population – struggle through spring and summer with watery eyes, running nose, itchy throat and the hallmark hay fever symptom, sneezing.
When people with hay fever are exposed to particular pollens, their body mistakenly thinks this is a threat and triggers an allergic reaction. Inflammatory cells quickly release mediators such as histamine and that’s when the symptoms kick in.
In some people with hay fever, pollen allergens can trigger allergic symptoms in the lower airways as well as the nose, making it difficult to breathe. Under certain climatic conditions, such as after thunderstorms, pollen allergy can trigger asthma attacks, even in those without a history of asthma.
Hay fever can have a profound effect on our ability to function normally. The problem seems to be getting worse, or at least consumers are increasingly looking to alleviate their symptoms. In the ten years to 2010, the wholesale turnover of drugs to treat hay fever doubled.
Why you have it
Grass pollens are the major outdoor allergen trigger for hay fever in Australia. The timing and severity of the grass pollen season varies considerably between years and places, according to a recent analysis of 17 sites across Australia and New Zealand.
With a temperate climate, Melbourne usually has a short but intense grass pollen season, peaking late in spring (October to November). In Hobart, the grass pollen season peaks slightly later and the pollen load is low.