Health

What can you do to combat hay fever?

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Leaves are appearing on trees, meadows are carpeted with new blooms, and birds are tweeting everywhere. This may sound like the perfect start to spring for some, but for one in five Swiss people it means that the pollen season is about to kick in with full force.

Around 1.2 million in this country are allergic to pollen, making it the most common allergy of all. Allergens like hazel and elder pollen are already filling the air, and ash trees are also adding to the mix in many areas. The result? Allergic reactions all over the place: streaming eyes, itchy skin, a nose that’s somehow runny and congested at the same time, severe attacks of sneezing, and breathing difficulties that can even turn into asthma.

Sufferers have lots of options to help them get through the pollen season, from everyday tips to drugs, desensitization therapies, and complementary medicine. Read on to find out more.

Everyday tips for dealing with hay fever

Simply avoiding pollen day to day can prevent hay fever or at least reduce the symptoms. Here are some tips to help you:

  • Keep track of the pollen forecast: pollenundallergie.ch (Switzerland; available in French, German, and Italian) or polleninfo.org (Europe).
  • Ventilate your home briefly but thoroughly, ideally early in the morning to limit your exposure to allergens.
  • Wash your hair before you go to bed so that less pollen gets into your bed.
  • Wear sunglasses outside to protect your eyes from pollen.
  • Take off your clothes before you go into the bedroom and store them in another room. This helps to reduce the amount of allergens in your bedroom.
  • Don’t dry your laundry outside – and preferably not close to a window – because fabrics tend to trap pollen.
  • Eat more onions and garlic because they have an anti-allergic effect for hay fever sufferers.
  • Adapt your exercise habits. Either do more indoors or do more in the early mornings when there’s less pollen in the air.

If you want to ramp up your precautions even further, you could fit pollen filters to your windows. You can also fit an after-market pollen filter to your car if it doesn’t already have one to keep the interior pollen-free.

Pollen allergy treatments

Some people suffer so badly from hay fever that no attempt to avoid pollen will stop them from experiencing symptoms. An allergy that remains untreated for a long time can, in the worst-case scenario, develop into allergic asthma.

To prevent this from happening, you should seek treatment for your hay fever. The list of treatments below is provided for information purposes only. You should always consult your doctor to discuss your options.

Hay fever drugs

A number of drugs with various active ingredients are available to treat pollen allergies. Some block the allergic reaction, some restrict the production or effect of substances known as inflammatory mediators. You should always consult your doctor before taking any drug. He or she might prescribe any of the following, depending on your symptoms:

  • Nasal spray
    A nasal spray will relieve symptoms such as a runny, sore or congested nose. It might also help with hay fever symptoms that affect the eyes.
  • Eye drops
    Eye drops are specifically designed to treat irritated, streaming or red eyes.
  • Allergy drops
    Allergy drops are mainly used for children who suffer from hay fever. They contain active ingredients that block allergic reactions and ease allergy symptoms.
  • Pills
    Various kinds of pills treat the different symptoms of pollen allergies. They can contain a range of different ingredients that could potentially cause side-effects. 
A woman takes a hay fever pill.

Besides allergy drops, eye drops, and nasal sprays, hay fever can also be treated with pills.

Specific immunotherapy for hay fever

This method is aimed at desensitizing the body. Patients are administered the type of pollen that causes their allergy in increasing doses over several years in the form of injections, pills or drops. This allows the body to get used to the pollen and build up a resistance to it so as to reduce or even eliminate the allergic reaction.

Complementary medicine for hay fever

Complementary medicine also has treatments to ease hay fever symptoms. You should consult a therapist to decide which method is best suited to your pollen allergy.

Here are some of the options:

  • Acupuncture
    Acupuncture is part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). It aims to achieve a therapeutic effect by inserting needles into specific places on the allergy sufferer’s body.
  • Homeopathy
    Homeopathy treats the allergy using a substance that, when undiluted, would trigger an allergic reaction in a non-sufferer. It is based on the principle of “similia similibus curentur” (Latin for “like cures like”).
  • Phytotherapy
    Phytotherapy is the therapeutic use of plants and plant extracts. The idea is to treat symptoms with natural substances that have anti-inflammatory, decongestant and other properties.

When will my basic health insurance pay for hay fever treatment?

Regardless of whether you opt for drugs, desensitization or complementary medicine, you’ll have to pay. The good news is that your basic health insurance will cover the cost of certain treatments.

If you’re being treated by a doctor for your pollen allergy, and your doctor prescribes a drug on the  list of specialties published by the Federal Office of Public Health , your basic health insurance will cover some of the cost.

Are you considering a specific immunotherapy (desensitization)? If so, you must consult an allergist as your basic insurance will cover the cost if you’ve been properly diagnosed.

Your basic health insurance may even cover the cost of some complementary medicine treatments, subject to certain conditions. If a properly qualified doctor provides acupuncture, for instance, the basic insurance will cover a specific number of sessions.

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