WITH pollen counts soaring, millions of Brits will be facing hay fever hell over the next few days.
And, unfortunately, there's currently no cure for the common allergic condition that affects up to one in five people at some point in their life.
The Met Office has warned of grass pollen levels reaching a "very high risk" today across the south of England and Midlands, with moderate levels in the north.
The most common symptoms reported by those with hay fever are a stuffy or runny nose, sneezing and itchy or watery eyes.
Many people manage their symptoms by taking simple steps such as putting Vaseline around the nostrils – or by taking over-the-counter antihistamine drops or tablets, and using a nasal spray.
However, for around ten per cent of people, these medications do not relieve their symptoms and some of them opt for the hay fever jab.
But what is this injection and does it really work?
What is the hay fever jab?
Some hay fever sufferers may opt for a steroid injection marketed as Kenalog.
The injection contains the drug triamcinolone, a corticosteroid that suppresses the body's immune system to prevent allergic reactions to pollen.
It is injected into arteries or muscles.
The 50mg or 100mg doses are ten or 20 times stronger than the oral steroid tablets now offered on the NHS.
Dr Farah Gilani, a Medicspot GP, told Patient Info: "Sufferers of hay fever may consider the hay fever injection, offered by some private clinic.
"This is an injection of a steroid called triamcinolone into a large muscle in the body.
"Once the steroid is injected, it slowly leaks from the muscle for three to eight weeks and travels throughout the body, theoretically offering relief from hay fever symptoms."
What are the pros?
There are many anecdotal accounts by individuals who say the injection has significantly improved their symptoms.
In particular, David Clare from Lincolnshire says he has had positive results from the jab.
He said: "I get the steroid injection for hay fever every year, although my GP only allows one course per year, due to the side effects.
"I find getting it just before the worst month (which is August, for me) is best, and keeps my symptoms at bay for a month. During this time, I feel just as I would in autumn and winter, so it is a quite a relief!"
David still has to take antihistamines either side of the injection, but says that over-the-counter and prescribed medicines have never really worked for him.
He added: "Only the jab does the job.
"For that reason, I find it worth the cost and the potential side effects (of which I've never experienced any)."
What are the cons?
The injection used to be available on the NHS – but it is no longer offered because it is too "toxic".
The treatment is said to trigger a potentially long list of side effects including raised blood pressure, water retention, skin rashes and muscle weakness.
Other unwanted secondary effects include swelling, breathing difficulties, abdominal pain, insomnia and taste disturbance.
Dr Margaret McCartney, a GP from Glasgow, said: "This is not a drug that is suitable for hay fever, because its side effects outweigh dramatically any possible benefits.
"You can get the benefits in far less toxic ways."
Dr James Cave, a GP who edits the Drugs And Therapeutic Bulletin, previously revealed that by suppressing the immune system, Kenalog also leaves people unable to cope with serious illness.
Its side effects outweigh dramatically any possible benefits
He told Radio 4's Inside Health programme: "Let's be clear, it's incredibly effective but just as you can light a barbecue with petrol, you can treat hay fever with Kenalog, and I seriously suggest you don't because of the dangers associated with it.
"Kenalog does not have a place in treating hay fever, due to its significant side effects.
"For three weeks after having the injection your immune system is suppressed, which means you are seriously at risk of infections like chicken pox and measles.
"Likewise if you have a serious illness or a road traffic accident, you may not be able to cope with the stress, with Kenalog suppressing your own stress reactions."
For these reasons, charity Allergy UK does not endorse the injection.
Ways to ease hay fever symptoms
1. Use Vaseline
Dabbing a little bit of petroleum jelly around the edges of your nose works as a barrier to trap pollen before you breathe it in.
2. Dry clothes indoors
If you wash clothes outdoors pollen will cling to your clean washing and cause symptoms to flare when you next pop those clothes on.
3. Wear wraparound sunglasses
This will help prevent pollen from getting in and irritating your eyes.
4. Try nasal spray
They work by reducing the inflammation inside the nose. It’s best to try and use them for a week or two before you think your symptoms will start as they can take a few days to work.
5. Shower more
This will wash away any of the pollen still attached to your skin and hair.
6. Use a damp cloth to wipe down dust
Clean dust off surfaces with a damp cloth so it is absorbed instead of being spread around into the air.
7. Cut down on booze
Beer, wine and other spirits all contain histamine – the chemical that sets off allergy symptoms in the body.
8. Take your meds at the right time
For most hay fever sufferers, symptoms are worse around midday when pollen levels peak. So taking the one-a-day anti-allergy tablets first thing in the morning will give you better protection.
Their spokesperson says: "The steroid injection is not recommended as it is a high-dose steroid given by an intramuscular injection and once injected, the amount of steroid cannot be removed and it comes with a high side-effect profile.
"Many patients like it as it does help with their hay fever symptoms and that is why you can get it privately, but it is not given on the NHS in allergy services as the recommendations are to give immunotherapy for severe hay fever."
Chief pharmacist Stuart Gale at Oxford Online Pharmacy adds: "Kenalog is only safe and recommended for use in a small group of people, as intramuscular steroids can exacerbate existing medical conditions.
"The mainstay of treatment is oral antihistamines, nasal sprays and eye drops."
While it might seem convenient simply to have a single injection rather than having to take tablets every day, GPs and pharmacists instead recommend conventional treatments such as topical and oral antihistamines, nasal steroids and eye drops.
The NHS says that GPs may refer people with severe hay fever symptoms for immunotherapy.
This involved being given small amounts of pollen as an injection or tablet to slowly build up immunity to pollen.
This kind of treatment usually starts in the winter about three months before the hay fever season begins.
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