Page last updated at 23:00 GMT, Sunday, 21 September 2008 00:00 UK

Hay fever allergies on the rise

Emma Wilkinson
Health reporter, BBC News

Child with hay fever
Children's schoolwork can be hindered by hay fever

The number of people suffering from hay fever has soared in recent years, figures suggest.

GP diagnoses of allergic rhinitis, which includes allergies to pollen, animal fur and dust mite, rose by a third between 2001 and 2005.

Greater awareness among doctors is probably partly responsible, in addition to a genuine increase in the condition, the researchers said.

The real figures may be even higher because many sufferers self-medicate.

Symptoms include a persistently runny nose, sneezing, itching and sore eyes and can last all year round if the allergen is something like dust mite.

We know that in people with allergic rhinitis there's a significant impairment in quality of life and getting the right treatment is important
Professor Aziz Sheikh, study leader

Professor Aziz Sheikh and colleagues used a GP database - QResearch - of more than nine million patients to work out trends in diagnoses.

As well as the increase in the number of cases there was also a 42% increase in prescriptions for antihistamines and nasal sprays used as treatments.

Writing in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, the researchers said a 45% increase in antihistamine use alone raised concerns about whether sufferers are receiving the right treatment when nasal steroids are often more appropriate.

Quality of life

"The increases are quite marked over a relatively short period of time," said Professor Sheikh, a primary care researcher at Edinburgh University.

"We know that in people with allergic rhinitis there's a significant impairment in quality of life and getting the right treatment is important."

He added: "There's still under-diagnosis of this problem so there needs to be more clinician awareness and the majority of patients are put on an antihistamine which isn't the most effective treatment."

Previous research has shown that, in teenagers, allergic rhinitis is associated with underperformance in summer exams.

Professor Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said the condition commonly presents itself around the age of 10 or 11.

"This is very interesting and matches my experience that GPs are seeing more people with rhinitis.

"It's a nice reminder for GPs that they need to keep up to date on the management of what can be a life-impairing condition."

No one is entirely sure why more people are suffering from allergic rhinitis but it is likely to be a number of factors.

One of the most popular theories, known as the "hygiene hypothesis", argues that a lack of exposure to bugs and infections during childhood increases susceptibility to allergies.

Jules Payne, deputy chief executive of Allergy UK said allergic conditions such as rhinitis did seem to be increasing year on year.

"It's really important for people to understand how to manage the condition and take it seriously or they could develop more serious problems like asthma."

'Summer spelt misery for me'
16 Dec 06 |  Health
Hypnosis could banish hay-fever
26 Apr 05 |  Health

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