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THE BIG sneeze

Hay fever rates have rocketed in the UK in the past decades, driven by environmental factors. Some scientists now believe junk food and processed food may be contributing, too. With the main season about to kick off, Jo Waters asks the allergy experts for our best line of defence

ONE IN FOUR PEOPLE in the UK is now estimated to suffer the misery of hay fever. Sneezing, itchy eyes, runny nose, coughing and fatigue are some the classic symptoms many of us have come to associate with the warmer weather.

Hay fever (allergic rhinitis) is caused by the body making allergic antibodies in response to pollen produced by grass, weeds and trees or mould spores. The body then makes a chemical called histamine in the nose, airways or eyes, which causes inflammation and irritation.

‘While not dangerous, hay fever symptoms are disabling,’ says Dr Patrick Yong, a consultant allergy specialist at the Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust, Surrey. ‘The symptoms can affect concentration, exam performance and sleep and can even disrupt your work – if you use machinery, for instance.’

Why is hay fever on the increase?

According to the charity Allergy UK, only around 8% of the UK population suffered in the 1960s. Now, says Dr Jean Emberlin, scientific director of Allergy UK, although it’s difficult to get a precise figure, around 25–30% of the general population are believed to be affected. ‘For some age groups, the figure is even higher – in one study of teenagers in south east England, for instance, 38% had hay fever symptoms,’ she says. ‘The march of all kinds of allergies has been astounding over the past four to five decades.’ In fact, the increase in hay fever cases is in line with a dramatic rise in the number of people suffering from other allergic conditions, including eczema, asthma and food allergies, including peanut allergy.

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About Healthy Food Guide

Is someone or something getting in the way of your weight loss? Our experts help you take back control and get the results you want. We help you beat the diet saboteurs, keep a food diary for better health and offer inspiration from a reader (and her doctor) who put her type 2 diabetes into remission. We've got loads of delicious, leaner recipes, including Gordon Ramsay specials, a tailor-made diet plan, plus ways to fight your fitness phobias!