Hay fever season in Melbourne runs from 1 October to 31 December each year. It’s a period dreaded by the 4.5 million Australians who suffer from the condition.
Itchy ears and throat, a runny nose, sneezing and watery eyes can all impact your day.
ON THIS PAGE
- What is hay fever?
- How long does hay fever last?
- What’s the best cure for hay fever?
- Melbourne’s pollen count
- Thunderstorm asthma
- When to visit your GP
- About Dr Elaine Sung
For an unfortunate few, the effects of hay fever are much more severe. Headaches, tiredness and difficulty concentrating can make springtime unbearable.
Grass pollen in the air is a significant cause of hay fever, and pollen levels are the highest in late spring and early summer.
The good news is pollen counts are published daily during hay fever season, allowing people affected by the condition to take precautions.
What is Hay Fever?
Also known as allergic rhinitis, hay fever is an allergic reaction to airborne particles, particularly pollen.
In Melbourne, ryegrass pollens are usually to blame. These pollens get trapped in the tiny hairs inside your nose, often triggering an allergic reaction.
Your immune system thinks it’s under attack. Nasal cavities become inflamed, causing your body to create more mucus. This is in an attempt to flush out the irritating particles.
The high levels of airborne pollen seem ruthless from late spring to early summer. It can feel like you’re getting hit from all directions with no end in sight.
Luckily, some people fare better than others and escape the worst of the season.
How Long Does Hay Fever Last?
Hay fever lasts as long as enough pollen and other allergens are in the air to cause an allergic reaction.
Once Melbourne’s hay fever season finishes, usually by January, most people find their symptoms disappear.
In saying this, many people experience episodes throughout the year. Dust mites, mould and household pets are also common irritants.
On a day-to-day basis, hay fever can last anywhere from a couple of hours to days. This duration depends on many factors, including your sensitivity to specific airborne allergens and how you minimise your exposure.
The common cold, which lasts for a few days to a week, is sometimes mistaken for hay fever. Symptoms such as aches and pains, fatigue and a mild fever will tell you it’s more likely a cold.
What’s the Best Cure for Hay Fever?
We can’t cure hay fever. Allergen immunotherapy is the best treatment for people with severe symptoms or those who don’t respond to medications.
Also known as desensitisation, immunotherapy exposes your immune system to gradual concentrations of the offending allergen.
Courses of treatment can run over several months, with treatment continuing for a few years.
The treatment involves a doctor administering allergen molecules through injections, tablets or drops placed under your tongue.
For the rest of us, there’s a range of over-the-counter medications to help reduce hay fever symptoms. These include:
- steroid nasal sprays (e.g. Rhinocort Hayfever, Nasonex and Telnase);
- antihistamines (e.g. Zyrtec and Claratyne);
- eye drops (e.g. Visine-A and Naphcon-A), and
- decongestants (e.g. Otrivin and Dimetapp).
Your GP can also advise what prescription medications may suit you.
Melbourne’s Pollen Count
Melbourne’s daily pollen count is active from October to January. Peak readings occur towards the end of November.
We urge hay fever sufferers to know the daily pollen forecast and stay indoors during high pollen days.
A high pollen day is when there are 50 or more pollen grains per square metre of air. Extreme days see more than 100 grains per square metre.
Both apps provide forecasts for thunderstorm asthma events and give you access to many other helpful features.
Melbourne is known globally as being notorious for thunderstorm asthma.
You may remember the shocking thunderstorm asthma event in late November 2016. Nine people died, and many more were hospitalised.
It was an unprecedented incident that led us to take preventative measures.
People with hay fever have an increased risk of asthma, including during a thunderstorm asthma event. Many victims of the 2016 event had no previous asthma symptoms.
A thunderstorm asthma event can happen when a high or extreme pollen day combines with a particular type of storm.
A sudden change in humidity causes pollen to burst into tiny particles. This turbocharges the spread of pollens, magnifying their terrifying effects.
University of Melbourne’s School of BioSciences has an excellent FAQ to which you can refer.
When Visit Your GP
You probably know what to do on bad days if you’ve had hay fever for a while.
However, I recommend you get to your GP if any of the following happens:
- You experience asthma symptoms such as a cough that won’t budge, breathlessness, wheezing or chest tightness
- Your hay fever symptoms last a week or more
- Your usual over-the-counter hay fever medications aren’t working
- You experience side effects from these medications.
Your GP can also refer you to a specialist if you want an allergy test. Some people find allergy testing useful in determining the exact trigger of their hay fever.
Dr Elaine Sung is the principal GP and owner of Doctors of South Melbourne.
Elaine isn’t seeing new patients, but most other doctors have availability. All GPs are experienced in treating allergies.