The Woolcock Institute of Medical Research

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Hay Fever Nothing to Sneeze at: Specialists

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

Young Australians with hay fever are suffering through seasonal sneezes and nose irritations unnecessarily as their condition goes poorly managed, new research shows. 

A study from Sydney's Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, published in the prestigious journal BMJ Open, shows half of children and teenagers with the condition don’t have their sniffles under control. These young people have poorer physical and mental health and fewer happy days compared with other children.

Lead researcher and Woolcock specialist Professor Sinthia Bosnic-Anticevich says research on adult sufferers shows they too also tend to manage their condition in a haphazard way, with limited success. “We have growing evidence that Australians, young and old, struggle through spring with unpleasant hay fever symptoms,” Professor Bosnic-Anticevich says. “Patients or their parents tend to grab medication they’re familiar with off the supermarket or pharmacy shelf without consultation. Sadly, that means sufferers are often not using the best medication to treat their particular symptoms.”

Hay fever, technically known as allergic rhinitis, is one of the most common chronic respiratory conditions, affecting almost one in five Australians, or 4.6 million people. It's triggered by house dust, animal fur, pollens, fungal spores and air pollutants that irritate the inner linings of the nose, causing sniffles, nasal congestion, sneezing, and watery or itchy eyes. People with hay fever are more likely to experience sleep issues, daytime fatigue and trouble concentrating, and can have increased risk of developing asthma. 

The Woolcock’s online survey investigated the impact of allergic rhinitis on the day-to-day lives of 800 Australian children aged 2 to 15. Two-thirds of the sample had moderate-severe, intermittent hay fever. While 90 per cent of these children were receiving treatment, only half reported adequate symptom control in the previous two weeks. “It was concerning to find that kids with hay fever had poorer quality of life, and this was particularly marked among children with ongoing symptoms,” Professor Bosnic-Anticevich says.

The paper states that outcomes could be improved through the use of smartphone apps that help young people monitor their symptoms. “Online allergy diaries give children and teenagers the opportunity to keep on top of their symptoms and improve the quality of their daily life,” the expert says.

Respiratory specialists believe hay fever is poorly managed because it is widely treated as a minor ‘nuisance’ ailment. “It is often trivialized by health professionals, and because the medications are available off the shop shelf, patients don’t see the need to seek treatment advice or find out about new therapies,” Professor Bosnic-Anticevich says.

That would be okay if people self-selected the most appropriate treatment, but few do, she said. “Nasal sprays are considered the ‘gold standard’ hay fever treatment and while these are the preferred choice overseas, in Australia they remain largely unpopular,” she says. “If more people took the best medication for their symptoms there would be tens of thousands of Australians feeling happier and healthier come allergy season.”

The paper, Inadequate symptom control is a key driver of the extent of the impact of allergic rhinitis on the day-to-day lives of Australian children, can be viewed here.

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