Warning for millions of hay fever sufferers as experts say allergy season has started early

Brace yourself hay fever sufferers: the season of sniffles, sore eyes and runny noses is upon us.

The first pollen warning for 2024 has been issued for Britain, weeks earlier than normal.

Normally the trouble starts in late March when the weather warms up, causing the plants to start producing pollen.

But experts say the recent spring-like weather has caused a surge in plant growth, causing an early release of alder pollen.

Dr. Beverley Adams-Groom, lead pollen forecaster at the National Pollen and Aerobiology Research Unit, told MailOnline: ‘Alder pollen started earlier this year due to very mild winter temperatures.

Forecasters have issued their first pollen warning of the year. The hay fever season in Britain normally begins in late March, when the weather starts to warm, causing plants to start producing pollen

The Met Office has not yet launched its annual monitoring forecast for pollen counts because it is too early.  Pictured: The Met Office forecast of June 22, 2023, in which the agency warned of 'very high' pollen levels

The Met Office has not yet launched its annual monitoring forecast for pollen counts because it is too early. Pictured: The Met Office forecast of June 22, 2023, in which the agency warned of ‘very high’ pollen levels

‘It’s not a record, but it started twelve days earlier than average.

‘In terms of severity it has been slightly above average so far, due to some very mild sunny days suitable for spreading pollen in quantities that could cause hay fever.’

However, she noted that as colder weather arrives this week, pollen levels will drop again.

Weekly forecasts published by the University of Worcester also show that pollen produced by hazel, alder and elm trees poses a ‘generally moderate risk’ this week.

Everything you need to know about hay fever

What exactly is hay fever?

Hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen, a fine powder that comes from plants.

In spring and summer, when the plants bloom, there is more pollen in the air.

The reaction usually occurs when pollen comes into contact with a person’s eyes, nose, mouth or throat.

Symptoms include coughing and sneezing; a runny or stuffy nose; itchy, red or watery eyes; an itchy throat, nose, mouth or ears; headache and fatigue.

Does it get worse every year?

The severity of hay fever depends on the weather.

Wet and rainy conditions wash away the pollen, reducing the number and severity of symptoms experienced by people.

However, in dry weather, the pollen is blown into the air, where it can easily get into the eyes and nose.

The pollen season also appears to be getting longer, with a US study last year showing it extended by 30 days between 1990 and 2018.

When are the symptoms worst?

Hay fever symptoms are usually at their worst around 11am and 6pm, and this is because the pollen is at nose level.

The pollen lies on the ground at the beginning of the day and rises when the grass warms up.

During the day, the pollen then goes very high into the atmosphere.

As temperatures cool during the day, the pollen grains return to the ground and are usually at nose level again by 6 p.m.

Yew pollen, it added, “will cause irritation to some people in the northern regions.”

Meanwhile, ITV weatherman Chris Page confirmed that ‘mild air’ had ‘kicked off the pollen season early’.

Hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen – a fine powder that comes from plants such as trees and grass.

Millions of Britons are affected by the disease, leaving them with cold symptoms until the season ends in mid-September.

The symptoms are usually mild, but hay fever can sometimes be dangerous, especially for asthmatics who are at risk of having a dangerous attack caused by their allergic reaction.

Patients are urged to take precautions including taking regular medications, always carrying their inhaler and calling their GP or 911 if their symptoms worsen.

Tree pollen season usually lasts from late March to mid-May, but can vary slightly depending on the weather and where you live.

Trees likely to cause problems include birch, alder, hazel and horse chestnut.

Max Wiseberg, maker of HayMax – an anti-allergy product – said: ‘Birch pollen, one of the worst for hay fever sufferers, will also be released a few weeks earlier.’

Superdrug today announced that sales of allergy products increased by 20 percent in February compared to the same period last year.

Europe has also seen a spike in pollen levels in recent days, with France’s National Network for Aerobiological Surveillance warning of an increase in hazel and alder pollen.

The British hay fever season is split into three sections.

After tree pollen arrives, grass often persists from mid-May to July, while weed pollen continues into September.

Hay fever symptoms are usually at their worst around 11am and 6pm – this is because the pollen is at nose level.

Symptoms begin when immune cells mistakenly identify pollen proteins as a threat and produce antibodies that trigger chemicals called histamine.

These cause the blood vessels to dilate, causing fluid to be released from the capillaries, causing a runny nose, sneezing and watery eyes.

But the NHS says there are things people can do to ease their symptoms when pollen counts are high.

Examples include applying petroleum jelly around your nostrils to catch pollen, wearing sunglasses to prevent pollen from getting into your eyes, and showering and changing after being outside to wash off the pollen.

Around 10 million Britons are believed to be affected by the seasonal sniffles.

But last year there was a rise in the number of people reporting hay fever symptoms, seemingly out of nowhere.

No one knows exactly what was behind this trend, but some experts have suggested that lockdowns and global warming may have accelerated the trend.