Is this the worst Summer for Hayfever in 50 years? Find out what to do in our exclusive Q&A with Dr Pixie McKenna of Embarrassing Bodies

Welcome to our lasted blog on the subject of Hay Fever.  With 2013 set to be the worst in 50 years

Dr Pixie McKenna from Embarrasing Bodies
Dr Pixie McKenna from Embarrasing Bodies

we conducted an interview with  Dr Pixie McKenna the presenter of the TV series Embarrassing Bodies.  Inter interview she tells us about Hay Fever, its treatments and the results of recent research.

The interview with Dr McKenna was conducted on behalf of PatientTalk.Org by Danielle Robinson.

DR PIXIE MCKENNA: My name is Dr Pixie McKenna, I’m a GP and doctor presenter on Channel 4’s Embarrassing Bodies.

ROBINSON: The study shows that the pollen count this year will be the highest for 50 years. Why is that?

DR PIXIE MCKENNA: This year the pollen count is going to be the highest in fifty years because, it’s no surprise, we’ve had some very bad summers and all the plants are going to be releasing their pollen at the same time, so we are just going to get a mass exodus of pollen which is going to make us all sneeze and wheeze. Normally you’ll get your tree pollen between March and May, your grass pollen between May and July and then your weeds between June and September, but they’re probably all coming to join the party at the same time and that is some time soon.

ROBINSON: If you have hay fever, are you allergic to all these different types of pollen or does it vary?

DR PIXIE MCKENNA: Not necessarily, you may find that you start to sneeze when the grass is out, you may find that when you’re out in the garden doing some weeding at the end of the summer that’s a problem, so you’re not necessarily allergic to every single type of pollen and there are over fifty different types, but most people find grass pollen particularly problematic.

ROBINSON: How is the pollen count actually calculated?

DR PIXIE MCKENNA: It’s a formula really, it’s the average number of pollen grams per cubic metre of air, which is very fancy, but for you and me really, the real deal is if it’s over fifty, you can get the daily pollen count from the Met Office, if it’s over fifty then you’re going to have symptoms.

ROBINSON: What  is hay fever, for anyone that doesn’t suffer, what are the main symptoms, or if this is the first time, what should you be looking out for?

DR PIXIE MCKENNA: Well if you’ve never had hay fever before and you think you’ve got a bit of a summer cold or you’ve got a cold that’s lingering, particularly if it’s a runny nose that isn’t necessarily snotty or you don’t have a fever or you feel well otherwise, it’s more of an irritation than signs of infection, you could be coming down with hay fever. All it is, is your body’s response to what it perceives to be an allergen and that’s the pollen. So it comes in contact with the pollen and it mounts an immune response and the immune response is to get rid of this pollen. So you’re going to inhale the pollen or it’s going to go up your nose, or it’s going to go into your eyes, so any of those areas can flare up, watery eyes, sneezing nose or a little bit of wheeze.

ROBINSON: Can you develop hay fever at any stage in your life or is this something that if you’ve had as a kid you’ll always have?

DR PIXIE MCKENNA: You can develop hay fever at any stage in your life, particularly if you’ve moved house or if you lived in the city and you’ve moved to the country, that can be a problem. So generally house moves or sometimes if the immune system is very challenged, you’ll start to get symptoms when maybe for several summers in the past you’ve never ever had a problem.

ROBINSON: What are the most effective treatments for hay fever?

DR PIXIE MCKENNA: I think there are two issues with hay fever. What we want to do is first of all we want to prevent the symptoms, so you’ve got to get down the pharmacy. But interestingly most of us are more likely to go to the pharmacy, try and get drugs to fix it and not think of anything that we can do ourselves. Now what we’ve learned from the Hotpoint home allergy report is that we could be doing a lot more at home and by that I mean doing a bit of linen. We don’t tend to wash our sheets as frequently as we should and when we do put on a wash and we wash our clothes, over half of us are putting our clothes out on the clothes line. Now there are two issues there. First of all if you don’t wash your sheets on a regular basis, the pollen grains, the house dust mites and all the things that can trigger allergy are still in there, so you’re getting into bed with them every night. If you are very diligent and you wash all your clothes and you’ll decide you’ll give them a nice airing out on the clothes line, that’s not a good idea either because all you’re doing is you’re bringing all the allergens back into the house, or you’re wearing them every day once you’ve put your clothes back on. So you’ve got to get your clothes into the washing machine on a regular basis, wash them ideally at 60 degrees on an anti-allergy cycle and I know you’re not going to like this but you’ve got to dry them in the tumble dryer as well.

ROBINSON: Has there been a rise in the prevalence of hay fever in the past few years?

DR PIXIE MCKENNA: Hay fever has definitely gone up, as all allergic conditions have. I think generically because as children we’re getting exposed to fewer and fewer serious symptoms that challenge our immune systems, so we’re seeing things like pollen or dust as allergens or threats and we’re mounting an immune response, where maybe our grandmothers and things had so many other things that their system needed to deal with, when they came up against pollen or dust, they got on with it, so it’s because our systems aren’t being primed. It’s also because we’ve got a lot of pollution, we’ve got a lot of climate change and unfortunately, you can’t choose your parents. If you’ve got asthma, eczema, hay fever, any type of allergy in your family, you’re far more likely to get hay fever.

ROBINSON: Is there any advice you could give to somebody who’s started suffering with hay fever for the first time this year?

DR PIXIE MCKENNA: If you’ve just started suffering with hay fever, the key thing I think is don’t ignore it, get down to your pharmacy and get some treatment, that’s the first port of call. The second thing is look at the things in your own lifestyle that you can limit. So have a look at the Facebook page that backs up this survey, that’s and that will tell you a lot about what you should be doing in terms of your washing. Invest in a nice pair of wrap around shades, the bigger the better and put some Vaseline round the inside of your nose to prevent you from getting exposed to pollen when you go out during the day. Ideally avoid things like cutting the grass, going for picnics, that type of thing, particularly when the pollen count is high. Check the pollen count and you’ll know when things are bad so try and limit the amount of time you spend outdoors on a very very muggy day, which is a high pollen count.

ROBINSON: Where can people go for more information?

DR PIXIE MCKENNA: You can also get some more information on the  website.

To see our previous blog on hay fever please go to


Sleep Apnea – might you have sleep apnea? What are your treatment options?

Sleep Apnea is a common but seemingly ignored condition in the western world.  Lagging it seemsstar wars not far behind Diabetes Type 2 as a medical condition and often with a similar profile of sufferers.  In fact between 3-7% of middle aged men and around 2.5% of women of that age have sleep apnea.

So what actually is sleep apnea?

Simply put it is abnormal breathing during sleep.  With obstructive sleep apnea (the most common kind) there is physical obstacle impeding breathing during sleep.  In many cases this is due to obesity.  The net result is, of course, a bad night’s sleep and the person with sleep apnea is unable to get the rest she or he needs.

The symptoms can include

a)      Snoring.

b)      Fatigue due to poor sleep.  For more information on fatigue please have a look at our previous blog

c)       Poor concentration during the day due to tiredness and possible cognitive dysfunction.

d)      Altered emotional states are common, in particular, moodiness.

e)      From long term sleep apnea depression seems to be a likely outcome.

If any of these apply to you it is important that you discuss these symptoms with a healthcare professional.

A problem is that the person with undiagnosed sleep apnea does not realise that they have sleep apnea because they are asleep when the apneas take place.

But the good news is that there are treatments.  These include:-

  • Medications which encourage improved respiration such as acetazolamide.
  • For people with mild to moderate sleep apnea dentists can produce a mouthpiece which opens the bite slightly thus increasing the airflow.  This is called a mandibular advancement splint.
  • For more severe sleep apnea a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device is used.  This pumps air into the patient’s nose and mouth increasing air to the lungs and promoting easier sleep.
  • In some rare cases surgery is used when other strategies to cure sleep apnea have failed.

As part of this blog we would be very interested to hear your views and experiences of sleep apnea.  In particular it would be great if you could consider the following questions:-

1)      Have you ever been diagnosed with sleep apnea?

2)      What were the symptoms of your sleep apnea?

3)      What tests were you given to make the diagnosis?

4)      What treatments for sleep apnea were you given?  How successful were these treatments?

If you could use the comments box below to contribute any of your thoughts that would be great.

You might be interested to know that in the UK the condition is spelt sleep apnoea?  Divided by language as always.

Is the UK’s National Health Service fit for purpose? Tell us what you think in our new poll!

Does the National Health Service (NHS) work as it should?  Does it need to be reformed?  If so nhs
how?  Come and have you say in our new poll.

Feel free to share any your thoughts and ideas in the comments box below!






Does An Apple a Day Keep the Doctor Away? What are the health benefits of an apple?

When I was a boy many years ago, along with washing behind the ears, we were regularlyApple Tree reminded on the old adage “An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away”.

Apart from the now ubiquitous “five a day” or in Australia “seven a day” is there anything specifically about apples?  Si  if one is eaten  per day does it  enable the consumer to indulge in a bit of physician  dodging.

To assist our readers PatientTalk.Org has conducted extensive research and has managed to ascertain the following useful information for our readers.

Perhaps most importantly according to The Stanford Cancer Center they may offer increased protection against certain kinds of cancers, in particular colon cancer, prostate cancer and lung cancer.  For more information please go to

It has also been suggested that apples have antioxidant properties.  To find out more about antioxidants please check out our blog

Finally it is worth noting that apples are high in dietary fibre and are great source of Vitamin C.

So while it seems that they won’t prevent you from every spending quality time in a Doctor’s waiting room, they are a great part of your daily fruit and vegetable intake.

Do you know anything more about the adage “An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away”?  If so we would love to hear what you know about it.  Please feel free to tell us in the comments boxes below.

Thanks in advance