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Nearly 1 in 5 Australians suffer from hay fever

4 min read
10 Sep 2020

It’s official; hay fever doesn’t just occur during spring.

Nearly one in five (19%) Australians suffer hay fever symptoms all year round, according to the latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).1 ACT recorded the highest percentage with 29.2% of the population suffering from the condition while the NT recorded the lowest with 13.6%.

Australian hay fever numbers

Source: ABS 2018.

The data also reveals that hay fever is more commonly reported by females and those aged in the 25-44 age bracket. The elderly (age 65+) and children (age 0-14) recorded the lowest rates of hay fever among the Australian population.

 

hay fever numbers for males and females

Source: ABS 2018.

What is hay fever?

Hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, is a chronic health condition that causes irritation and inflammation to the nose, eyes and throat. Most people with hay fever experience sneezing, a runny nose and itchy eyes, and the triggers can include dust mites, pollen, grass and pet hair.

Hay fever typically begins in adolescence; however, it can develop at any age.4 One common misconception is that hay fever only occurs during springtime; but many sufferers will tell you that’s not the case.

In Australia, the main period of flowering is from October to December, but many species of pollen-producing trees and grasses flower throughout the year.

What is pollen?

Pollen is the reproductive substance that fertilises plants, and is spread via birds, insects and (most commonly) the wind. It spawns from various types of grasses, weeds, flowers and trees.

However, not all allergenic pollen is native to Australia. Some weeds and flowers were introduced in the 20th century from foreign countries like the United States, Italy and England.3

Is hay fever a severe medical condition?

While it’s not always a serious condition, hay fever can be a debilitating ailment that affects general health, concentration, productivity and sleep quality.5

What’s more, if you’re an asthmatic, hay fever can trigger an asthma attack. In fact, there’s evidence that asthma and hay fever may be caused by the same genes because they share many of the same triggers.6

However, it properly diagnosed and treated, hay fever can be a highly manageable health condition.

Getting tested

The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) recommends people with hay fever symptoms get tested.7 This process involves a GP first creating an allergy history.

You’ll typically get asked some questions, and they’ll record the timing of the symptoms and identify plants and trees that may be triggers. After that, you’ll be sent for a blood test, and the results will be interpreted by an allergy specialist to confirm the diagnosis.

woman near pollen with hay fever

What are the available treatments for hay fever?

A doctor or pharmacist can offer hay fever sufferers a range of treatments, including:

  • antihistamine tablets that help reduce symptoms (e.g. sneezing, watery eyes);
  • decongestant sprays to dry and unblock the nose; and
  • natural products, including saltwater sprays to flush out the nasal cavities.

How to manage hay fever

There’s no cure for hay fever, so prevention is the best way to manage symptoms. According to ASCIA,9 the following tips may help prevent or limit hay fever symptoms:

  1. Try and limit going outdoors on windy days or after thunderstorms, when the pollen count is at its highest.
  2. Avoid activities that could flare up symptoms, like picnics in the park or mowing the lawn.
  3. Try booking holidays by the seaside, as it’s generally easier to manage symptoms in these locations than it is in the country.
  4. If possible, plant trees in your yard that are less likely to trigger an allergic reaction and remove trees that do.
  5. Reduce your exposure to animal hair and dust mites (e.g. clean dusty spaces in your home).

Remember: when dealing with hay fever, follow medical advice from a health professional.

Want to read more about health-related issues? Check out our latest health articles on The Burrow.

Sources:

  1. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Allergic rhinitis (hay fever) 2020. https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/chronic-respiratory-conditions/allergic-rhinitis-hay-fever/contents/allergic-rhinitis. Accessed August 2020.
  2. Ibid.
  3. The Australasian society of clinical immunology and allergy (ASCIA). Pollen Allergy. 2019. https://www.allergy.org.au/patients/allergic-rhinitis-hay-fever-and-sinusitis/pollen-allergy. Accessed August 2020.
  4. Victoria State Government. Better health channel. 2020. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/hay-fever. Accessed August 2020.
  5. Health direct. Hay fever (allergic rhinitis). 2019. https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/hay-fever. Accessed August 2020.
  6. The Australasian society of clinical immunology and allergy (ASCIA). Pollen Allergy. 2019. https://www.allergy.org.au/patients/allergic-rhinitis-hay-fever-and-sinusitis/pollen-allergy.
  7. Health direct. Hay fever (allergic rhinitis). 2019. https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/hay-fever. Accessed August 2020.
  8. The Australasian society of clinical immunology and allergy (ASCIA). Pollen Allergy. 2019. https://www.allergy.org.au/patients/allergic-rhinitis-hay-fever-and-sinusitis/pollen-allergy. Accessed August 2020.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
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