Pharmacists, get your nasal sprays ready…

Experts are warning more pollen than usual is set to hit the east coast of Australia.

Associate Professor Ed Newbigin from the University of Melbourne, who specialises in hayfever, allergy and flowering plants, says a record wet season is behind a burst in pasture grass growth.

“It’s been a wet season up and down the east coast of Australia. We’re looking at the data and seeing there’s a lot of grass out there,” says A/Prof Newbigin, who runs the Melbourne Pollen Count and Forecast.

A/Prof Newbigin says most of the growth has been in pasture lands, which have grass that produces a lot of pollen.

“Grass is a major source of allergies in Australia,” he says.

“These grasses and plants release a lot of pollen into the air, which then travels by wind into the cities.

“That growth is setting us up for one of the best (or worst, depending on your point-of-view) grass pollen seasons in recent years,” he says.

He forecasts that the grass pollen season will begin in late October.

Dr Mimi Tang, allergy specialist at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, says the impact of hayfever on quality of life is often underestimated.

The symptoms of hayfever are often missed by the patient, particularly once they become more severe or chronic, which is when congestion becomes the main issue.

“Many patients with significant congestion ignore their blocked noses and accept the sniffing.

“Pharmacists can look out for mouth breathing and allergic shiners (swelling under the eyes), and can recommend a topical nasal corticosteroid if there is congestion. Antihistamines do not target congestion.”

Hayfever’s link with asthma is also often underestimated, says Dr Tang, with many people not understanding that they are closely related.

“The lining of the nasal passages is continuous with the airways and poorly controlled hayfever has been shown to cause asthma to be more severe.

“The majority of people with asthma also have hayfever; and in these patients, it’s important to treat both conditions in order to have good asthma control.”

How to tell if a presenting patient has hayfever?

The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy says to look out for the following:

Immediate signs and symptoms:

  • Runny nose
  • Rubbing of the nose
  • Itchy nose
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy, watery eyes

Obstructive signs and symptoms:

  • Congested nose
  • Snoring