Pollen allergy (hay fever) is the most common allergic disease in our part of the world. It rarely appears before the third year of life. As a rule, the symptoms do not start until school age. The purpose of pollen is the fertilisation of plants. A distinction is made between insect- and wind-pollinated plants and it is the latter that trigger pollen allergies. Out of around 3500 plants in Switzerland, only about 20 have any significance for pollen allergy sufferers.

Causes and triggers of pollen allergy

Pollen allergy (hay fever) is a reaction to one or more types of pollen; the predisposition to pollen allergy is often inherited. It involves the immune system reacting to the proteins of pollen which in themselves are harmless. As a result of inhalation or direct contact with pollen, histamine is released in allergy sufferers which leads to inflammation of the conjunctiva of the eyes and the lining of the nose.

Symptoms of pollen allergy

The following symptoms may occur: sneezing attacks, runny nose (rhinitis), blocked nose, itchy and streaming eyes, itching in the palate, nose and ears. A build-up of mucus in the paranasal sinuses can cause headaches and jaw pains. Pollen allergy that is left untreated for a lengthy period of time can develop into allergic asthma, which is known as  progression.

Diagnosis and differential diagnosis

The diagnosis is based on thorough history-taking with the aid of skin and blood tests. Similar symptoms can occur in cases of house dust mite or mould allergy. Differences can mainly be identified in the place and time of onset of the symptoms. This is why it is worth observing the symptoms accurately.

Therapy and treatment

Various medicines in the form of nasal sprays, eye drops or tablets/drops can be used to treat the symptoms of pollen allergy. The most important groups of active substances include antihistamines, corticosteroids (cortisone drugs), leukotriene antagonists and mast cell stabilizers. More information about the active substance groups and their mechanisms of action can be found on the page «Pollen allergy treatment». Desensitization/specific immunotherapy (SIT) is so far the only possible way of causally treating the symptoms of pollen allergy. It calls for investigation by an allergy specialist (allergologist). Certain therapies from complementary medicine can also relieve the symptoms successfully. Which form of treatment is suitable should be discussed with the relevant therapist.

Tips and tricks

Precise information about pollen flight in Switzerland can be found at www.pollenundallergie.ch. The European pollen flight data are published in various languages at www.polleninfo.org.
To reduce the symptoms:

  • During the pollen season, windows should only be briefly opened wide to air rooms. During prolonged periods of rain or when pollen screens have  been fitted to the windows, you may ventilate more thoroughly (have a look: www.swiss-allergy-service.ch)
  • Fit pollen filters in your car and keep them well maintained.
  • Wash your hair before going to bed.
  • Do not dry laundry outdoors.
  • When pollen levels in the air are high, during fine, windy weather it is advisable only to stay a short time in the fresh air and to wear sunglasses.
  • Any type of indoor sport is suitable.
  • With drug treatment, sufferers can usually move around outside without any further problems.
  • Take antihistamines about one hour before sports activities.
  • Before major physical exertion, only consume “safe” food and drinks because the body exhibits allergic reactions more quickly under stress than at other times.
  • Anyone who suffers from cross-reactions to foods should avoid consuming fruit and nuts before sports activities.

Facts and figures

In Switzerland around 1.2 million people, roughly 15–20% of the population, are affected.
The flower of a single blade of grass contains around 4 million flower pollen grains. Conifers are among the flower pollens that do not trigger any allergy. Visible as a yellow dust-fall in springtime, at most they cause irritation of the conjunctiva.
 

Editors: aha! Swiss Allergy Centre in co-operation with the Scientific Advisory Board.

 

aha! Swiss Allergy Centre helps

  • aha!shop: Booklets and factsheets provides detailed information and are available in German, French, Italian.  The booklet "Allergies – simple to explain" and the questionnaire "Do I have an allergy" is available in English
  • Experts on the aha!infoline will be happy to answer personal queries: Monday to Friday, 08.30–12.00.
  • Products and services awarded the Swiss Allergy Label – an added benefit for sufferers.
  • aha!kinderlager for children with allergies aged between 8 and 12 years: holidays full of variety with lots of sports, play and fitness. Under expert supervision, children learn to deal better with their allergies and/or asthma.
  • aha!jugendcamp for youngsters aged between 13 and 16 years: a broad range of sports and leisure activities, skilled leaders tackle aspects of allergic diseases in adolescence.
  • Education and courses on the subjects "Allergy, asthma, chronic bronchitis", "Anaphylaxis" and "Neurodermatitis"
  • We value your opinion. Or would you like to exchange experiences with other sufferers? Find out more under "Beratung und Austausch"
  • Your donation will enable us to provide important services to people with allergies, asthma and neurodermatitis. Many thanks. Your support will be put to effective use.