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Last Updated: Saturday, 26 July, 2003, 23:42 GMT 00:42 UK
NHS stories: Hay fever misery
Rhoda Mathieson
As part of a series of articles BBC News Online reporter Jane Elliott looks behind the scenes of the NHS.

This week we focus on how a new jab against hay fever, given at the Royal Brompton Hospital, London, made summers bearable for one sufferer.

Hay fever was making Rhoda Mathison's life a thorough misery.

Her first summer of misery was six years ago and each year it has returned more viciously than the last.

She tried every potion and remedy possible from the chemist, but nothing had any effect.

And when she started to suffer hay fever induced breathing problems, she knew she had to take action.


"The insides of my eyes got so swollen they started to bulge out and it started to affect my work as a biomedical scientist because I was suffering from repeated eye infections.

"But what really concerned me was when I started having respiratory problems for the first time.

Although it is not life threatening it has made these people's lives very miserable
Vicky Carr, specialist research nurse in allergies at the Royal Brompton

"I started to wheeze and I had to use an inhaler."

Rhoda, aged 49, from London, was enrolled on a special hay fever trial at the Royal Brompton Hospital, London.

She was given regular controlled injections of pollen to build up her immunity.

Rhoda was also given special tablets to take to keep the hay fever under control during the summer and said she soon noticed a drastic difference, making her summer bearable.

"There was a distinct difference. I did not have any eye infections. I took the tablets and I was fine."

She said that she had spent much of the early summer this year in the Caribbean, where she did not need to take her tablets, but as soon as she flew back to the UK she started to notice problems.


"Even just on the trip back, because I hadn't been taking my tablets I noticed that my throat was itchy."

Rhoda is still part of the 78 person trial and continues to have monthly injections.

Vicky Carr, specialist research nurse in allergies at the hospital, said that the cases referred to their centre were those who, like Rhoda, had tried all other forms of remedy.

Vicky Carr
Specialist research nurse Vicky Carr

"Because we are secondary care we have people who have been referred because they are not being helped by medicines.

"These are people whose quality of life has been badly affected by hay fever.

"Although it is not life threatening it has made these people's lives very miserable.

"[Some] have had problems doing their exams because of their hay fever. [Others] can't go out during the day, haven't been able to play sports during the summer or have picnics or any of the other enjoyable things that people like to do in the summer."


Professor Stephen Durham, at the Royal Brompton, said the hospital was continuing to look at other methods of combating hay fever, including allergen drops given under the tongue.

He said research like this would help improve the quality of life for the 20-30% of the UK population who suffer from hay fever each year.

"Immunotherapy is very effective. Half of all sufferers will have fewer symptoms and 80% are able to reduce the amount of medication they need.

"The problem with immunotherapy is that it is difficult for patients. The allergen, in this case pollen extract, must be injected under the skin weekly for several months followed by years of maintenance treatment.

"However at Royal Brompton we have shown that three or four years of immunotherapy remains effective three to four years after it is discontinued. So for some patients it is a cure.

"Although it works, there is always the possibility of severe allergic reaction to the treatment.

"This is rare; about one in 500 patients will experience a serious reaction, but for this reason it must be done in a hospital setting where there is access to life support."

Professor Durham said the hospital was now researching even safer methods of delivering the allergens, such as the sublingual drops.

Previous stories

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19 Jun 03  |  Health
Hay fever 'lowers' exam grades
08 May 03  |  Education


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