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Atchoo! How to tackle the pollen allergy season in Sweden

Allergy sufferers will be less than thrilled to learn the pollen season is already here. To make your life easier, The Local has some handy tips for how to make it through the ordeal.

Atchoo! How to tackle the pollen allergy season in Sweden
It's that time of the year again. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

Plan ahead

Planning won’t eliminate your suffering but it could go a long way towards reducing it.

Check the local pollen forecast on websites Pollenkoll or Pollenrapporten to find out well in advance when the worst days are likely to be, and if it’s possible to avoid being outdoors on those days, consider taking shelter.

Hot, windy days in particular are not your friend, as it’s then that the most pollen spreads in the air, while still, wet and cloudy days tend to be the most tolerable. But some people are already reporting having issues with pollen, despite there still being snow on the ground in lots of places in Sweden.

Staying indoors just because there’s a lot of pollen in the air may not be feasible of course, so perhaps it’s more realistic to limit your outdoor time to early mornings and late evenings on those days (dew binds to pollen in the mornings and evenings, reducing the amount in the air). You could also wear a mask with a pollen filter if you need to go out during peak pollen times.

Above all, use the pollen forecasts to make sure that you start taking any medication with enough time in advance for it to kick in properly.

The Swedish names for the most common plants and trees causing pollen allergies are björk (birch), gräs (grass), gråbo (mugwort/wormwood), hassel (hazel), al (alder) and ek (oak).

Find the right medication

There is a long list of non-prescription medication available in Sweden that can be used to alleviate the symptoms of a pollen allergy.

The most common starting point is antihistamine tablets, but depending on the symptoms you may also want to use Cortisone nasal spray for congestion, and eye drops containing Chromones for runny eyes.

Medication won’t completely eliminate your symptoms, but it should ease them. If that doesn’t happen, it could be time to speak to a doctor. They can prescribe something stronger – including a course of anti-allergy vaccinations if they see fit – and perhaps more importantly test you to make sure it’s a pollen allergy you have in the first place and not something else (or a combination).

Good housekeeping

For allergy sufferers a clean house is a happier house, so make sure that’s the case as much as possible. Some vacuum cleaners have HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filters that catch pollen and other particles, while changing bed sheets regularly will contribute to a better night’s sleep.

Simple acts like shutting vents when the pollen level is high and keeping your bedroom door closed during the day to minimise the spread of pollen from the rest of the house are also worthwhile. Keeping flowers indoors should be avoided, and if you have a garden, resist the temptation to cut the lawn, which increases the pollen in the air.

Adapt your routine

When there’s a high pollen count, make sure to take a shower, wash your hair, and immediately change your clothes when you come home – all of which should get rid of any pollen hanging around. It’s also best to dry your clothing indoors rather than outside, so it picks up less of the irritating particles.

If you have a pet, brush them regularly and in particular when they come indoors from the wider world. It’s also a good idea to get your exercise fix indoors rather than out when pollen levels are particularly high.

It’s thought that some foods can trigger symptoms in those who have pollen allergies (a phenomenon known as cross-reactions), with certain fruit and herbs some of the culprits, so consider reducing your intake of them – especially in combination – if you notice it triggering your allergy when the pollen season is at its worst.

Persistent congestion can be brutal and it it’s really bad, rinsing your nose with a saline solution can provide some quick relief – doing so before bed may aid sleep.

Finally, drinking plenty of water is a must, and hot fluids are one way of doing that while also benefiting from the clearing effects of steam, which will ease your blocked nose and breathing.

Article written in 2018 and updated in 2022.

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WHO warns ‘high’ risk of monkeypox in Europe as it declares health emergency

The World Health Organisation on Saturday declared the monkeypox outbreak, which has affected nearly 16,000 people in 72 countries, to be a global health emergency -- the highest alarm it can sound.

WHO warns 'high' risk of monkeypox in Europe as it declares health emergency

“I have decided that the global monkeypox outbreak represents a public health emergency of international concern,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press conference.

He said a committee of experts who met on Thursday was unable to reach a consensus, so it fell on him to decide whether to trigger the highest alert possible.

“WHO’s assessment is that the risk of monkeypox is moderate globally and in all regions, except in the European region where we assess the risk as high,” he added.

Monkeypox has affected over 15,800 people in 72 countries, according to a tally by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published on
July 20.

A surge in monkeypox infections has been reported since early May outside the West and Central African countries where the disease has long been endemic.

On June 23, the WHO convened an emergency committee (EC) of experts to decide if monkeypox constitutes a so-called Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) — the UN health agency’s highest alert level.

But a majority advised Tedros that the situation, at that point, had not met the threshold.

The second meeting was called on Thursday with case numbers rising further, where Tedros said he was worried.

“I need your advice in assessing the immediate and mid-term public health implications,” Tedros told the meeting, which lasted more than six hours.

A US health expert sounded a grim warning late on Friday.

“Since the last #monkeypox EC just weeks ago, we’ve seen an exponential rise in cases. It’s inevitable that cases will dramatically rise in the coming weeks & months. That’s why @DrTedros must sound the global alarm,” Lawrence Gostin, the director of the WHO Collaborating Center on National and Global Health Law, said on Twitter.

“A failure to act will have grave consequences for global health.”

And, on Saturday, he called for “a global action plan with ample funding”, saying there was “no time to lose”.

Warning against discrimination
A viral infection resembling smallpox and first detected in humans in 1970, monkeypox is less dangerous and contagious than smallpox, which was eradicated in 1980.

Ninety-five percent of cases have been transmitted through sexual activity, according to a study of 528 people in 16 countries published in the New England Journal of Medicine — the largest research to date.

Overall, 98 percent of infected people were gay or bisexual men, and around a third were known to have visited sex-on-site venues, such as sex parties or saunas within the previous month.

“This transmission pattern represents both an opportunity to implement targeted public health interventions, and a challenge because in some countries, the communities affected face life-threatening discrimination,”
Tedros said earlier, citing concern that stigma and scapegoating could make the outbreak harder to track.

The European Union’s drug watchdog on Friday recommended for approval the use of Imvanex, a smallpox vaccine, to treat monkeypox.

Imvanex, developed by Danish drugmaker Bavarian Nordic, has been approved in the EU since 2013 for the prevention of smallpox.

It was also considered a potential vaccine for monkeypox because of the similarity between the monkeypox virus and the smallpox virus. 

The first symptoms of monkeypox are fever, headaches, muscle pain and back pain during the course of five days.

Rashes subsequently appear on the face, the palms of hands and soles of feet, followed by lesions, spots and finally scabs.

READ ALSO: WHO says European festivals should go ahead despite monkeypox risk