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Last Updated: Saturday, 16 December 2006, 00:00 GMT
'Summer spelt misery for me'
By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

David Jenkins
David had hay fever for 19 years
From the start of April until mid-September David Jenkins would avoid going out.

Summer for him was a hay fever nightmare.

"My eyes would be terribly runny. They would be like slits, and the roof of my mouth itched.

"I would get a fever with my symptoms so I would feel as if I had the flu all the time and I would be short of breath. I would feel lethargic and totally miserable.

Misery

"Every time the summer ends I would forget about it, but I would suffer six months of misery," he said.

Art director David, 38, from London, tried all the usual remedies - but nothing gave him the relief he needed.

The effect of hay fever on people's lives should never be underestimated
Professor Richard Powell

His doctor suggested he tried immunotherapy and David was accepted onto a trial at the London Chest Hospital.

They discovered he was allergic to grass pollen and for the first 16 weeks he spent three hours a week receiving treatment to to bring down his immune system reaction to normal levels by exposing him to tiny amounts of the pollen.

Now he has top-up treatment once a month.

The following summer, David noticed dramatic results.

"It was fantastic. I was like a different person. I had no symptoms at all.

"This summer I had a few more symptoms, but then the pollen count was higher. However I hardly had to use my anti-histamines."

He hopes that after another few years of treatment his immunity will have reached such a level that he has lifelong protection.

"I think they say you have to have the treatment for about five years to experience the long-term benefits."

David is not alone. Many people with hay fever forget about the condition during autumn and winter and only seek treatment once symptoms return the following year.

But there are preventative medications which can help those afflicted.

Immunotherapy is desensitisation treatment which allows the body to build up its tolerance of the protein which causes hay fever.

Treatment

At the moment, people receiving this treatment need to be given injections and cared for in a specialist centre because there is a risk of an allergic reaction.

But a new vaccine for hay fever in pill form is due to be launched next year.

Grazax will initially only be available on prescription and recommended for patients who have not responded to current treatments.

But experts say the pill, developed by ALK-Abello, is likely to prove popular and could help around one million people in the UK alone.

Richard Powell, professor of clinical immunology and allergy, at Queen's Medical Centre, Nottingham, said instead of having to go to hospital for treatment, people would be able to take this treatment at home, although the first dose must be taken in a hospital so doctors can check for any adverse reactions.

"This will make hay fever treatments much more widely available.

"Treatments have to become more convenience based. Having to turn up for hospital appointments to get treatment all the time could be a pain in the neck, but now patients will be able to take their treatments at home."

Hay fever. Photo Credit David Mack/Science Photo library
Hay fever causes summer misery

He stressed however, that patients wanting to take advantage of immunotherapy should act now and ask to be referred by their GP.

He said immunotherapy was a treatment that needed to be build up gradually and not just started in the weeks before the hay fever season restarts.

"People with hay fever need to get an appropriate management plan now, ahead of the next pollen season, to avoid a repeat of the horrendous hay fever symptoms experienced this year.

"The effect of hay fever on people's lives should never be underestimated."

Statistics show that the incidence of hay fever is increasing across Europe, with the UK one of the worst affected areas.

Here 26% of the population is affected by allergic rhinitis.

Impact

A spokesperson for Allergy UK said the effects of hay fever were often underestimated.

"Hay fever is a condition that needs to be taken seriously as it is on the rise in the UK.

"Unfortunately it is often written off as simply sneezing and sniffing.

"It does however impact significantly on family and social life in addition and can cause poor work performance because it affects concentration.

"This often leads to people being absent from work or school due to their symptoms."




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