Why Pollen Can Increase Your Risk Of Asthma

Why pollen can increase your risk of asthma

Date: 02 May 2017

Pollen is a common trigger for people with asthma. The tiny powder-like substance is produced by certain types of trees, grasses and weeds. An allergy to grass or hay pollen is known as hay fever which affects about 1 in 5 people in the UK. Approximately 80% of people with asthma also have a pollen allergy.

How do you know if pollen is your trigger?

Keeping a diary can help you notice if pollen is a trigger for your asthma symptoms. If, for example, you get symptoms after you’ve been in the garden or walking in the woods at a certain time of the year, it could suggest a pollen allergy.  

What are the Symptoms of Hay Fever?

The most common symptoms of hay fever are:

  • blocked nose

  • watery, runny nose

  • sneezing

  • itchy nose

  • watery eyes.

Other symptoms include:

  • headaches

  • reduced sense of smell

  • itchy eyes

  • disrupted sleep and tiredness

  • earache

There are hundreds of different types of grasses, trees and weeds in the UK. Different types of pollen are released at different times of the year in different parts of the country.

Can the weather affect hay fever symptoms?

On hot, sunny days, more pollen is released so the pollen count tends to be higher. Air pollution can peak during warm, dry days too, and the combination of both can cause 'grey fever'. Less pollen is released on cooler, cloudy days.

During a thunderstorm when the humidity is high, high levels of pollen can be swept up high into the air, triggering asthma.

Also if air pollution levels are high, this can make hay fever symptoms worse because it creates a smog which traps pollen, preventing it from escaping into the upper atmosphere.

What's the best way to reduce the risk of pollen affecting you?

  1. Take the Asthma UK Risk Test.

A simple questionnaire will reveal the risk and tell how it can be reduced.  The Risk Test can be accessed through ringing the Helpline on 0300 222 5800, by means of the Asthma UK website on www.asthma.org.uk 

       2. Manage your asthma well. This is the best way to reduce the risk of pollen making your asthma symptoms worse. You can do this by:

  • Taking your medication regularly as prescribed.

  • Using a written asthma action plan.

  • Going for regular asthma reviews.

       3. Take medicines for hay fever. Research shows that anyone with asthma who also has hay fever can significantly reduce their risk of going to A&E or being hospitalised if they treat their hay fever. This could include nasal steroids, anti-histamines or anti-inflammatory eye-drops; so ask your pharmacist or GP which one is right for you.

       4. Try these practical tips, especially important on dry, warm and sunny days when the pollen count is usually higher:

  • Be aware of the Pollen Count/Forecast provided by the Met Office 

  • Keep doors and windows closed when you're indoors.

  • Wear wraparound sunglasses to stop pollen getting in your eyes when you're outside.

  • Change your clothes and have a shower when you've been outside.

  • Don't cut the grass and avoid walking in grassy areas.

  • If possible, avoid drying your clothes outside as pollen will stick to them.

  • Remember that pollen counts are generally higher in the early morning and late afternoon/early evening, so it may be better to avoid being outside at these times if possible.

  • Dust with a damp cloth and vacuum with a HEPA (high-efficiency particle arresting) filter regularly.

  • Don't smoke or let other people smoke around you because it can make hay fever (and asthma) symptoms worse.

  • Alcohol can increase your sensitivity to pollen so it may be worth avoiding it when the pollen count is high and/or your symptoms are severe.

  • If possible, don't go outside before, during or just after a thunderstorm.

  • Keep an eye on air pollution levels and, if possible, avoid going out when air pollution levels are particularly high.  The air pollution levels can be monitored by means of:

-the Defra website 

-the television and other media/press material

  • When you're booking a holiday, remember that the pollen count is likely to be lower in locations by the sea.

  • If you're going abroad, check the local pollen information and forecast before travelling. 

More advice call the Asthma UK Helpline on 0300 222 5800 (Monday – Friday; 9am-5pm) or email info@asthma.org.uk