FOR Ballarat residents the arrival of spring means warm weather, birdsong and barbecues.
Unless, that is, you suffer from hay fever. In that case, spring equals sneezing, itching and nasal drips.
Ballarat is staring down the barrel of its worst hay fever seasons in years, thanks to plentiful rainfall leading up to spring.
Ballarat physician and allergist Brett Knight said the hay fever season typically started in October and November – the peak time period for grass pollen to flower.
“We’ve had heavier rainfall leading up to spring so there is more grass around and a lot more pollen,” he said.
Dr Knight said about a third of the population was affected by allergic disease, and a good proportion of those had hay fever.
He said allergic disease was becoming more common but, despite extensive research into the issue, it was not clear why.
People can be allergic to multiple types of grasses and experience symptoms for months.
Then there are flowering trees and shrubs to deal with, as well as environmental factors.
Pollen is an enemy that can affect somebody from hundreds of kilometres away – and even from the atmosphere.
“If we get wind coming from the north and there’s a big pollen load coming across the land mass, you can be affected by pollen from far away,” Dr Knight said.
“If there are a lot of thunder storms and rain, it can drop pollen from higher up in the atmosphere. The rain shatters the pollen as it falls.”
The common symptoms experienced by hay fever sufferers include sneezing, itching, nasal symptoms, irritations of the eyes and dripping down the back of the throat.
Often, sufferers experience asthma symptoms too.
Dr Knight said it was more likely to be troublesome when people were outside.
But the good news is that help is available.
Dr Knight said treatments ranged from antihistamines for people with occasional symptoms, to nasal sprays for more persistent cases.
He said desensitisation – usually involving injections, tablets or droplets – could stop hay fever in its tracks by tricking the immune system.