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Climate change, asthma and hayfever – why pharmacy teams can expect more queries

Global warming is triggering an increase in seasonal allergies, and community pharmacies can expect to see more customers asking for advice as a result

Research suggests that over 20% of the UK population is affected by one or more allergic disorders, and climate change is now resulting in a marked increase in allergies such as hayfever and asthma.

Immunologist and clinical researcher Ross Walton (pictured below) explains: “Global and local changes in weather patterns and shifts in temperatures have a massive impact on plants of all types.

“This has the potential to change growth kinetics, altering flowering times and subsequently change timing and duration of pollen-producing periods, and also favour the successful growth of different plant species.

“Warmer weather can also affect the way that pollen behaves, as air temperature and pressure play a crucial part in pollen movement. Pollen-producing seasons for trees, weeds, moulds, and grass have lengthened on average half a week per year for the last two decades as a result of an altered climate.”

This is bad news for hayfever sufferers, who will not only experience a longer period of symptoms, but potentially increased severity.

Dust mite allergy is also on the rise. As sources of allergens inducing asthma and rhinitis, researchers at the Institute for Immunological Research at the University of Cartagena in Colombia think house dust mites’ sensitivity to global or regional changes in temperature, humidity, air pollution, or other environmental conditions could modify their growth, survival, and allergen production.

People with asthma are also at risk from the effects of climate change. “As climates warm up, more thunderstorms can be expected, and can lead to allergies and allergic or ‘thunderstorm asthma’,” explains Dr Walton.

“As a storm builds, pollen particles, which are generally around 35µm in size, are swept up into the clouds, where moisture and pressure breaks these down further (as tiny as 3µm) and these smaller particles are easily breathed into the lower airways, creating inflammation and allergic reaction.”


Allergy control and advice


Helping customers control their allergy symptoms is extremely important, especially as “sources of allergies affect people in different ways”, says community pharmacist Sultan Dajani.

“But symptoms centre around sneezing, coughing, rashes, blocked noses, headaches, and itchy red eyes, as well as being responsible for provoking respiratory illnesses such as asthma and skin conditions such as eczema.”


Hayfever help


When it comes to tackling hayfever, allergen avoidance techniques are the first step, according to Richard Middleton, registered pharmacist and director of the British Herbal Medicines Association: “Hayfever sufferers should avoid spending too much time outside from mid-morning to dusk, but if outside, use wraparound glasses, and dab some white petroleum jelly around the nostrils to trap incoming pollen and other irritants,” he says.

“Inside, keep windows and doors closed wherever possible and shower or change clothes after being outside to wash off pollen and other irritants. Always think about how pollen load can be reduced, so avoid cutting or walking on grass, do not keep fresh flowers in the home, and do not dry clothes outside – they can catch pollen in the fabric, which can then be transported indoors,” Dr Middleton adds.

Over-the-counter treatments are useful for those patients who are struggling to control their symptoms with avoidance methods.

“Antihistamine tablets can help to ease symptoms,” says Dr Middleton. “But some older first generation antihistamine drugs like chlorphenamine, while often very effective, can cause drowsiness and should be avoided, therefore, if operating machinery or driving.”

Second generation antihistamine drugs such as cetirizine or loratadine do not tend to cause drowsiness, and Dr Middleton also recommends steroid nasal sprays such as beclometasone as “particularly helpful with nasal congestion”.

The wearing of masks brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has also helped to significantly reduce pollen exposure, as both the mouth and nose are covered, Dr Middleton says.


Alleviating eye allergies


Often the first site of an allergen irritation, eyes can feel itchy, red, swollen, gritty, and dry when allergies hit.

Mr Dajani notes that “eyes are very sensitive” and “the temptation here is to keep touching or rubbing the eye to provide relief”.

“But that can create more problems for the eye [and] leave them open to the possibilities of infections such as styes, conjunctivitis or blepharitis,” he warns.

Eye drops are helpful to have on hand to soothe inflamed and itchy eyes, but not all can be used by contact lens wearers, so pharmacy staff should advise customers of this and recommend appropriate products.


Dusting off dust mites


Dust mites do not bite, but contact with their faecal matter via the skin can trigger allergic reactions such as skin rashes, urticaria, upper respiratory symptoms and asthma.

Tracy Wright (pictured above), physiotherapist and founder of the CleanMyBed medical-grade allergen removal system, says: “Dust mites thrive in warm, humid environments such as our mattresses, which provide the perfect climate to breed as well as feed off the constant supply of shedding skin cells.”

The solution, she says, is to “medically sanitise mattresses at least every three to four months, making sure pillows, blankets and electric blankets receive the same treatment”.

She recommends that pharmacy staff also advise customers to “hot wash linen and tumble dry or air in the sun, and place children’s stuffed toys in the freezer for 24 hours to kill any resident dust mites, as simple washing will not remove them”.


Tackling thunderstorm asthma


With estimates from the British Lung Foundation suggesting that eight million people (12% of the UK's population) have been diagnosed with asthma, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) says there is “a significant susceptible population of otherwise potentially healthy individuals who may be affected by thunderstorm asthma”.

According to the UKHSA, there is “some evidence that certain people are at greater risk of experiencing thunderstorm asthma”, including those who have:

  • previously been diagnosed with asthma – particularly those whose asthma is poorly controlled or who do not regularly take preventer medication
  • asthma not formally diagnosed at the time of the thunderstorm asthma episode
  • seasonal allergic rhinitis (hayfever).

Community pharmacy staff are ideally placed to advise customers who already have a diagnosis of asthma about the actions they can take to manage the condition, and many pharmacies offer an inhaler technique review by trained pharmacists to ensure that patients use inhalers correctly.


How to encourage long-term improvements


As our climate warms and changes to natural systems continue, while individual lifestyle changes and expert advice from pharmacy teams can improve allergy outcomes for suffers, Dr Walton says “national change led at government level through public health campaigns” is what’s really needed “to deliver long-term improvements and widen understanding of the benefits of lifestyle changes to more allergy sufferers”.


A.Vogel launches Pollinosan Hayfever Eye Drops in 10ml

A.Vogel’s new Pollinosan Hayfever Eye Drops can soothe red, burning, itchy eyes caused by pollens, the manufacturer has said.

Launched this month, the new eye drops contain a combination of hyaluronic acid and chamomile, can be used with contact lenses and are suitable for vegans.

The drops are suitable for children from the age of seven upwards, after consultation with an optician or healthcare professional, A.Vogel said.

The 10ml bottle provides 30 days’ worth of drops at the dosage of one drop per eye, five times per day. The eye drops can be used for a maximum of 30 consecutive days, the manufacturer added.

The 10ml bottle retails at £12.99, with 50p from each product ordered going to the Bee Conservation Trust, A.Vogel said.

To order, call the A.Vogel order line on 0800 085 0820. Customers in Northern Ireland can contact Natural Health Products on 02890 703100.

For more information on the product, visit the A.Vogel website

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