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New Zealand’s hay fever rate has reached epidemic levels, and people living in Central Otago are no exception. Allergy NZ estimates close to 40% of people in New Zealand suffer from hay fever, and it expects that number to continue to rise for various reasons, including climate change. Alexia Johnston reports.

Hay fever has hit people throughout Central Otago with a vengeance this spring, some reporting the severity of their condition has worsened over time.

The vicious cycle of nasal and chest complications triggered by hay fever allergies was something they were familiar with, many people approached by The News said.

Alexandra woman Sandra O’Neill was among them.

Mrs O’Neill believed she became susceptible to hay fever while living in Christchurch 23 years ago.

“Something happened – it just got triggered.”

She had suffered from hay fever every year since, some seasons more than others, the past couple of years having been “quite bad”.

Medication had helped over the years, but she had to stop taking a recent prescription because she had a reaction to it.

“I came up in a rash, which had never happened before.”

Her hay fever symptoms, which appeared to be lasting longer each season, often started in her face before moving into her chest, and had triggered her asthma at times.

“My inhalers are the most important thing,” she said.

Hay fever was something she had learned to cope with.

“I can’t avoid it unless I live in a bubble.

“It’s only short-term for me, which is good. I just have to monitor it.”

Wanaka resident Zane Gemmell also suffers from hay fever, but not as much as when he lived in Alexandra.

He moved to Wanaka with his family four years ago and noticed the difference almost immediately, Mr Gemmell said.

“Moving to Wanaka has definitely calmed it down.”

Pharmacist Paul Avenell, of Alexandra Pharmacy, said it was difficult to gauge if people were suffering from hay fever more this spring than in previous years.

“It’s definitely a busy season.”

He said some people suffered from hay fever every year, while others were affected only spasmodically, depending on what kind of pollen they reacted to and how much of it there was.

Allergy New Zealand allergy adviser Penny Jorgensen said hay fever affected 20%-40% of the world’s population.

“New Zealand is likely to be at the top end, based on the ISAAC [The International Study of Asthma and Allergies in Childhood] study some years ago, so it is estimated around 40% of the population are affected here.”

The estimate for New Zealand was based on global data, as no research had been done on the country or its various regions, she said.

The cause of the allergy epidemic was not well understood, although there was a lot of research looking at various hypotheses.

The two main triggers affecting people in New Zealand were house dust mites and pollen, mainly from grasses.

Hay fever triggered by grasses was a “major problem”, not just because grass was grown widely, but also because the windy climate meant grass pollen could be carried a “long way”.

“Even people living in concrete jungles in the city can be exposed to grass pollen.”

People who experienced symptoms should use treatment prescribed by their doctor, including intranasal corticosteroid sprays, which could act as a preventive measure during the pollen season.