Hay fever as bad as heart disease - GP

HEATHER SIMPSON
Last updated 05:00 02/09/2014

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Hay fever sufferers battling miserable attacks suffer a reduced quality of life equivalent to someone with heart disease, a GP says.

Dr James Chisnall, who runs the top of the south's only allergy clinic at Richmond, said allergy sufferers were battling chronic fatigue and days off work.

Unmanaged grass in paddocks and vineyards in Nelson and Marlborough meant grass went to seed causing fits of sneezing, itchy, watery eyes and runny noses among hay fever sufferers.

In more severe cases it built up to blocked sinuses, sleep disturbance and tiredness.

"When people start feeling miserable it has a profound effect on their life," Chisnall said. "People with severe hay fever show the same effect on their quality of life as someone with heart disease. People end up not sleeping properly and having time off work.

"Hay fever is a bit of a misnomer. Some people get it all year round and others feel the effects when it starts to kick in in August."

In mild to moderate hay fever cases over-the-counter remedies could be quite effective if taken regularly and properly, he said.

Desensitisation, which involved exposing patients to increasing doses of an allergen, provided noticeable improvements for severe sufferers.

Keita McCormick, 41, of Blenheim, has suffered moderate hay fever since she moved to Marlborough from Nelson in 2007, battling sore, itchy eyes, headaches and a sore throat.

"I stopped wearing make-up because it wasn't doable. I felt a heavy head and blocked up like a flu I couldn't kick.

"I am miserable. Last year I thought I couldn't do it. If it continues I would think differently about staying in Marlborough."

Auckland Hospital immunologist Dr Andy Baker said the health service was unprepared for an increase in allergy sufferers.

There was only one immunologist in the South Island based in Christchurch and there weren't enough allergy clinics or GPs proficient in allergy care, Baker said.

Every large hospital in New Zealand should have an allergy specialist as rates of hay fever increase to 30 per cent.

"Admission to hospital for severe allergies has doubled in the last 10 years," Baker said. "The cost is the health service isn't prepared and there hasn't been anything done to meet that need between hospitals and primary care."

Baker said those with hay fever did not have to suffer in silence.

"Many sufferers self-medicate with over-the-counter remedies from pharmacies in a highly ineffective manner when they haven't had evidence-based care that works for their whole lives."

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People that have gone to allergy specialists see a sudden improvement in their symptoms, he said.

"After 30-40 years it is incredible that they have never had proper treatment. Most have fallen through the cracks because they normalise symptoms into their life.

"While an allergy is not always life threatening a moderate allergy every day for 30 days is a huge problem. If it is never a cause of crisis they don't sort it out.

- The Marlborough Express

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