Karen Fletcher looks for options to cope with hay fever as the pollen season begins

As the winter finally decides to make an exit, Spring 2021 is a welcome sight. But for those who suffer from asthma and allergies, it’s also the start of pollen season.

Hayfever is often regarded as a mild condition with little impact on quality of life. But those who get it and who also have asthma (like me) have a very different experience.

Hot still weather, and a build-up of high-pollen days can even result in hospitalisation (been there, done that). 

Even if it’s not so dramatic, hayfever causes splitting headaches, lack of concentration and the need to take more medication.

Modern air conditioning includes filtration that can remove those ‘pesky’ pollutants.

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The hayfever season

As you can tell, I have mixed feelings about the arrival of warmer weather.

But I am not alone. In the UK we are seeing growing numbers of people reporting hayfever and other allergies such as dust and dander which also pop up more in the warmer months.

In addition, the hayfever ‘season’ is getting longer. Since the 1990s, studies show that the pollen season in the northern hemisphere has extended by about three weeks.

This change is closely linked to global warming and the climate emergency.

And of course, with hot, still air in summer there is the added danger of other pollutants such as NOx which can also enter our homes and other buildings.

Purity of air

Most UK homes don’t have air conditioning, so summer sleeping can mean open windows or carefully-positioned fans.

Unfortunately for asthma and allergy sufferers, both of those techniques can cause more problems than they solve because they introduce more dust and pollen into the sleeping space and stir it around rather than extracting it.

Little wonder then that consumers are showing more interest in air purifiers than ever before. The European market for these products is set to grow by 7.7% over the next five years.

However, as with the open windows, these products have unintended consequences too – for example, they draw pollen- and pollutant-laden air towards them before treating it.

So if you’re in the wrong part of the room, you’re right in the path of the polluted air you want to avoid. 

Another issue with stand-alone air purifiers is that it’s currently a bit of a wild-west market, with no real standards in place for the products. You can buy a product that looks great on paper, but there’s no way to prove how effective it is.

Ventilation

An alternative solution is the whole-house ventilation approach.

While it’s more of an investment in terms of capital and time for installation, there are many more benefits.These include more reputable suppliers and installers who know what they’re doing.

Overall, they provide more predictable and robust delivery of ‘clean’ air into the home, and combined with heat recovery they are also energy efficient.

As more of us seem likely to be working from home at least two to three days per week, ensuring that we can do so in a healthy environment is increasingly important.

Filtered air conditioning

A new option that seems to be gaining traction amongst discerning consumers is the idea of installing air conditioning in their homes, to replicate the conditions they are used to in their offices.

The benefits for asthma sufferers can also go beyond keeping the indoors comfortable because modern systems also include filtration that can remove those ‘pesky’ pollutants.

Whether installed in the bedroom or the office – or even both, a modern system will enable you to increase your wellbeing in the place that should be a haven – your home.

Maybe that should be my next step in my constant battle against hay fever, I could do with a good night’s sleep!

Karen Fletcher is former editor of Modern Building Services and CIBSE Journal