If you asked the average person on the street if they thought hay fever was more prevalent in the countryside or built-up towns and cities, they would most likely say the countryside.
However, research by the National Pollen and Aerobiology Research Unit at Worcester University has revealed that built-up towns and cities are home to up to twice as many hay fever sufferers as their more rural counterparts.
Why are there twice as many hay fever sufferers in towns and cities than rural areas?
In built-up towns and cities, there are lots of dust clouds which can’t disperse because of a lack of wind. These combine with traffic pollution and the sun’s rays to trap grass, trees and weed pollen closer to the ground than elsewhere. This increases the number of hay fever sufferers and how often their symptoms are presented.
A hay fever report published in 2010 predicted that by 2030 half of people in the UK would suffer from an allergy to pollen. This forecast was made due to the large number of people moving to cities, with experts predicting that the number of hay sufferers in the likes of London and Birmingham would increase by 45%.
Hay fever rates higher in cities, despite lower pollen counts
Professor Jean Emberlin, director of the National Pollen and Aerobiology Research Unit at University of Worcester, who authored the report, told the Telegraph on its publication.
He said: “Hay fever rates tend to be as high or even higher in urban areas than in the surrounding countryside despite the fact that most pollen counts are much lower in cities, especially for grass pollen.
“This anomaly is likely to be due to many factors. Urban areas tend to have more air pollution, which is important in several ways. Vehicle exhaust pollutants affect the respiratory tract, make the hay fever symptoms worse and enhance the allergic reaction. Pollutants, such as nitrous oxides, also alter the allergens of birch pollen making them more potent.”
“Other factors include the faster pace of the urban lifestyle which leads to higher levels of stress, which makes people more susceptible to allergies.”
5 ways city dwellers can reduce your hay fever symptoms
Here are our top tips for reducing hay fever symptoms if you live in a town or city:
- Protect your eyes when you’re outside
Sunglasses not only look cool during the summer months, they also play an integral role in protecting hay fever sufferers by stopping pollens getting in eyes, on eyelashes and eyebrows.
Wraparound glasses offer the most protection, while if your allergies are specially bad, a wide-brimmed or ‘bucket’ hat will stop the millions of bits of pollen in the air landing on you.
- Keep windows closed and wipe down surfaces with a damp cloth
Pollen levels — both in rural areas and the countryside — are highest in the morning, so it’s important to be vigilant earlier on in the day.
Pollen also lingers on surfaces and travels through the air. So if you’re prone to symptoms even when you’re inside, close the windows and wipe down surfaces with a damp cloth to ensure no pollen is lingering and you don’t become irritable.
- Take extra care on windy days
Gusts of wind pick up dust in urban areas that contains pollen and transports it around.
Allergy sufferers should take extra care when it’s windy by covering up or ensuring they’ve had enough antihistamines to help fend off irritable symptoms.
- Avoid trees and grasses, especially during pollination
This is easier said than done, but if you can, avoid grassy areas in the city which when their pollen is combined with the surrounding urban dust, can really bring on hay fever symptoms.
- Take ‘friendly’ bacteria
Research suggests that the ‘friendly’ bacteria (or probiotics) found in certain yogurts and milks reduces hay fever symptoms such as itching and a runny nose.
That’s because it lowers our levels of IgE, which is central to causing allergic reactions when pollen levels are high. Try adding foods or drinks containing probiotic into your diet and see if it works for you.
Making some changes to your diet might also be worth considering, so make sure to check out our Health Hub where you’ll find recipes and wellbeing ideas.