Hay Fever Meds Not to be Sneezed At

Tens of thousands of hay fever sufferers may be using guess work to unsuccessfully treat their sneezes and nose irritations, Australian researchers fear.

A study is underway at Sydney's Woolcock Institute of Medical Research to determine what kind of treatment Australia's 3.1 million hay fever-prone residents are receiving.

Principal research fellow Sinthia Bosnic-Anticevich and her team are interested to learn how many people are choosing their own medications without seeking any advice from a pharmacist or GP first.

"Anecdotal evidence suggests that many sufferers are walking into the pharmacy, grabbing their treatment of choice and purchasing it without checking to see whether it's actually the best medication to treat their particular symptoms," Professor Bosnic-Anticevich says.

"If that's the case then it's of considerable concern because it suggests that people are suffering annoying symptoms which impact on their daily lives, unnecessarily."

Hay fever, technically known as allergic rhinitis, is one of the most common chronic respiratory conditions, affecting about 15 per cent of the population. It's triggered by house dust, animal fur, pollens, fungal spores and air pollutants that irritate the inner linings of the nose.

Sufferers are most likely to be women of working age who experience their allergic symptoms seasonally or year round.

There are a wide range of medications available, including nasal sprays, tablets, eye drops and allergen treatment injections. Antihistamine tablets are particularly popular but Professor Bosnic-Anticevich and her colleagues are concerned the drugs being selected are not always the best for the job.

To find out definitively, the Woolcock researchers will be surveying 200 people who visit selected Sydney pharmacies to buy hay fever medication. These findings will be added to detailed data already collected from interviews with 50 other hay fever sufferers. "We're keen to find out if sufferers had their symptoms diagnosed and whether the medication they're buying is actually helping to relieve their symptoms," Prof Bosnic-Anticevich says.

Preliminary results from their research this far seems to indicate that many are opting to treat their hay fever with antihistamines instead of a nasal anti-inflammatory sprays, which would generally better suit their symptoms.

The concern, explains Professor Bosnic-Anticevich, is that poorly managed hay fever can put patients at risk of interrupted sleep, shortness of breath and low energy.

"The dangers are especially great for people with asthma, who commonly also suffer from hay fever and may be more at risk of flare ups if the latter is not treated," she says.

"Our advice is that if you have hay fever and have not yet spoken to your pharmacist about it, please do so. They are trained to assist you in optimally managing your condition and improving your quality of life."

The study, to be completed over spring, will paint the first thorough picture of how well managed the condition is in Australia. 

Hay Fever in Australia

  • Hay fever can be triggered by house dust, animal fur, pollens, fungal spores and air pollutants.
  • Depending on the sufferer’s trigger, symptoms can be experienced seasonally, as with certain pollens, or all year round, like with animal fur.
  • Symptoms include a runny, blocked or itchy nose and/or sneezing and watery/itchy eyes.
  • It's one of the most common chronic respiratory conditions in Australia, affecting 15 per cent of the population or 3.1 million people.
  • Females are more likely to be affected than males, and sufferers are most commonly aged 25–44 years.
  • The condition can cause significant irritation, interrupted sleep and exacerbations in symptoms of asthma, chronic sinusitis and infections of the middle ear.
  • The Australian Capital Territory and Western Australia have the highest rates of hay fever in Australia.
  • The condition can be managed with use of tablets, sprays, eye drops and injections, but researchers at the Woolcock Institute of Medical Research are concerned many sufferers are medicating incorrectly or not at all.

As seen on Channel 9 news. Watch the news clip here.