HAY FEVER sufferers were told yesterday that their relief pills were in short supply.
Some antihistamines, which relieve symptoms such as runny nose and itchy eyes, have been sold online.
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It precedes the peak summer hay fever months, when grass pollen sets noses across the UK.
Already millions will be sniffling because of “spring hay fever,” caused by tree pollen.
A quarter of people with hay fever are allergic to tree pollen, which begins to subside from mid-May.
At this point, grass pollen begins to come back up, affecting most people with the disease.
Dr Sarah Jarvis, GP and Clinical Director of Patient.info, told The Sun: “This time of year always means a higher demand for antihistamines as people with hay fever need them.
“But people who need it year-round, like those with eczema, may also struggle if supply is limited.”
Is there a shortage?
Boots and Superdrug have confirmed there is a shortage of an ingredient called chlorphenamine maleate.
It is the active ingredient in hay fever remedies including Piriton, Allercalm, Allerief, Hayleve and Pollenase, and some pharmaceutical brand pills.
Only four of 90 hay fever products at Boots and “a couple” at Superdrug appear to be affected.
Other online pharmacies are also out of stock.
Will you be affected?
Chlorphenamine is considered an “older” type of antihistamine.
Dr Jarvis said: “Current shortages of antihistamine tablets are mainly in chlorphenamine tablets, which I don’t often prescribe.
“Unlike more modern antihistamines, these induce drowsiness.
“Most adults rely on the ‘non-drowsy’ versions, such as cetirizine and loratadine – I haven’t gotten many calls from pharmacists about this.
“However, if hay fever comes on in a flash, there may be a ripple effect for these as well.”
What else can I use?
There are several newer antihistamines – including loratadine, cetirizine, fexofenadine and acrivastine – that are not affected by the shortage.
These may be branded or sold by pharmacies and supermarkets as cheaper equivalents under their own brand.
These types of antihistamines do not have the same drowsiness side effect as chlorphenamine.
However, hay fever sufferers who suffer from sleepiness may still want the drowsy effect that chlorphenamine offers.
Superdrug said alternatives to Piriton include Allevia and the Almus chlorphenamine range.
Will the shortage be solved?
Boots said it expected the issue to be resolved quickly and that “further shipments are expected in the coming weeks.”
Dr Jarvis said: “There are always occasional drug shortages on the NHS. In my experience as a GP, these have worsened considerably over the past couple of years.
“If I prescribe a medicine and the pharmacist doesn’t have it in stock, he can try to order it from a central supplier.
“But if there is none available, they should contact the GP to prescribe an alternative.”
Claire Anderson, President of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said: ‘Medicine shortages are nothing new and something pharmacists have to deal with on a daily basis.
What else can you do to relieve hay fever?
Antihistamine tablets are used by about 65% of people with hay fever, according to Chemist4U.
But they are only one of many ways to fight allergy.
Sprays, balms and eye drops are also hay fever’s best friends.
Allergy eye drops can relieve redness, itching, swelling, and watery eyes, while nasal sprays can help relieve itchy, runny, or stuffy nose.
They work by coating the nasal mucosa with a barrier film, preventing pollen from coming into direct contact with the nasal surface.
If you’re on the go, take a few wipes with you to gently remove pollen from your face.
Organic allergen barrier balms, such as HayMax, trap allergens before they enter the body through the nose and eyes.
But petroleum jelly, found in almost every household, also does the trick at a fraction of the price.
Dietary advice includes avoiding apples, which may contain similar allergens, and aged cheeses, which can increase natural histamine levels.
Stock up on anti-inflammatory ingredients like garlic and sweet potatoes.
Chief pharmacist Parvinder Sagoo, of SimplyMedsOnline, says two tablespoons of honey a day could be the key to reducing your hay fever symptoms.
He said: “Bee pollen in honey desensitizes your body to other pollens, so increasing your daily intake of honey can help a person become less sensitive to pollen, which can lead to fewer seasonal allergy symptoms.
“I would recommend taking a spoonful or two a day, you can add it to your breakfast porridge, granola or you can even mix it in a cup of hot water and create a hot honey drink .
“You can also add lemon and ginger for additional immunity benefits.”
Experts also advise on key principles of a pollen-free home, including showering as soon as you enter, keeping windows closed and avoiding drying clothes outside.