Geeks Vs Loneliness: a word about hay fever

In which we look at why summer isn't fun, games and Glastonbury for all. In fact, some of us become She-Hulk...

Welcome to Geeks Vs Loneliness, our weekly spot where we talk about issues, problems, stresses and demands that are affecting sometimes a few, sometimes many of us. We try and come up with a few ideas that may be of us too, but as we’ve always said, we don’t – worse luck – have any magical elixir in our cupboard.

This week, we welcome back the brilliant Jane Roberts…

Never mind winter, summer is coming. Blue skies, green meadows and hopefully just a little bit of sunshine for our inclement land. What’s not to look forward to?

Well, for the hay fever sufferer, pollen. A sniveling, sneezing, coughing, overheated season of misery. Windows shut, medication lined up in regimented order. Steroid drops for eye – check. Nasal decongestant – yup. Anti-histamine overload – uh, huh. Asthma inhalers prepped – you betcha. Sense of humour bypass – absolutely in place.

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People who don’t have hay fever tend to dismiss it as a case of the sniffles. As a sufferer for over 30 years, and with chronic asthma as a result, I can tell you it’s a whole lot more than that. It’s the misery of waking every day for 6–8 weeks with a throat raw from pollen and a head that feels like it‘s been excavated with an ice cream scoop. It’s the swollen eyes with eyelashes that fuse together during sleep and have to be painfully unpicked before use. And where do I start with the epic sneezing?

It’s the joy of finding a coffee shop with air conditioning and no external windows that you can set up camp in indefinitely. Of sliding into a chlorinated swimming pool and sticking your head under its sanitised waters, feeling it blow the allergies out of your system. Unfortunately 90 minutes or so of pretending to be Nemo results in the Thelma Simpson look, so that option is strictly limited.

I was once told I was the perfect girlfriend – for 46 weeks of the year. The other six, they wanted to send me back to restore my factory settings. Needless to say, that wasn’t a relationship for life. But he had a point. I am unbearable during the pollen season. The medication I have to take leaves me dazed and confused – but crucially allows me to keep breathing. I can’t go outdoors and windows stay shut during the warmest time of the year. In the office, I was the pesky person always turning the air con to artic. And I’m generally pretty furious with it all, becoming a mini she-hulk for weeks on end.

You find everyone has a helpful suggestion on curing your condition. It’s generally the honey homily. Eat local honey and be cured – bingo! Folks, it’s not helpful. In fact, it is so not helpful I’d like to ram a jar of honey where the sun doesn’t shine – my own nasal cavities. That’ll stop the snot.

So what does help?

Well, sunglasses. Wraparound sunglasses. It may be grey and dull or even nighttime outdoors, but I’m rocking the Matrix look for a reason – to protect my eyes from pollen. Some days I consider wearing a welding helmet but they don’t seem to make them small enough for someone minion sized.

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Cotton man sized handkerchiefs. People laugh at my hankies. They are bigger than my head. Then they hear me sneeze and appreciate my consideration for not destroying their clothing / facial features with mucus. There is a good reason for using cotton – paper tissue tends to have loose fibres that can aggravate an already upset nasal lining.

Medication. It took a while to find a combination that works, in partnership with my doctor and I start it a couple of weeks before the season fully hits. If you are a sufferer keep at it until you hit the best combo for you – pharmacists are also pretty helpful. I do have to go for the unholy trinity of tablets, decongestant and eye drops but they’ve come a long way since my 1980s diagnosis. They aren’t perfect and I do have to accept it is not sensible for me to be in a field in June, so Glastonbury is not on the menu.

Daily hair washing and showering. This is helpful, especially with long hair that traps pollen very effectively. While it is a pain, a daily wash minimises the pollen cloud caused when brushing. I also never dry clothing or bedding outdoors.

Avoiding any perfumed products, including deodorant. This helps me personally as walking into a scented cloud makes my already overanxious immune system fire off more histamine in retaliation. NB this doesn’t mean forgoing hygiene – just because it’s summer I don’t wish to smell like Stig of the Dump even if I look like him.

Finally, when all else fails and I hit that spell where I feel like I’ve been wading through a month long hangover, I am allowed an emergency reprieve day. For one day only when I hit the misery peak I am allowed ice cream and alcohol (medications permitting). Ice cream for the sore throat. Alcohol, erm well that one is for the warm glow and to induce singing to raise the mood. You know the next day will hurt anyway. Your anti-allergy release may be a hermetically sealed room and Statham films on tap – whatever works.

If you are a fellow sufferer you have my commiserations. Please comment if you have any recommendations of your own on dealing with allergies. Or just want to vent about seasonal misery. Just don’t mention honey.

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For expert advice on dealing with a much broader base of allergies visit Allergy UK.

Thanks, as always, for reading.