Some 12 million people in the UK suffer from hay fever.

In more extreme cases this can cause huge disruption, with many having to take time off work and avoid the countryside.

As tree pollen concentrations start to rise in early March, sufferers start to feel the effects.

The situation is better for people living along the Sussex coast as pollen counts are much lower than inland but, even here, the number of sufferers continues to rise.

Common symptoms include a runny nose, itchy eyes, sore throat and repeated sneezing attacks.

Hay fever is a seasonal allergy which causes inflammation of the mucous membranes of the nose and eyes.

It is caused by a sensitivity to one or more species of pollens or fungi.

In addition, many patients with hay fever develop other allergic conditions such as asthma and sinusitis.

In the spring, hay fever may be caused by tree pollens such as oak and, in summer, by grass pollens.

David Clark, from Superdrug in Brighton, says there are several steps that can be taken to limit the damage.

These include letting someone else mow the lawn or do the gardening, shutting windows and doors in the house and closing the sunroof and windows in the car when the pollen count is high.

Pollen levels tend to peak mid-morning and early evening.

He also recommends sufferers wear sunglasses with wraparounds that sit close to the face to prevent pollen getting into the eyes.

Areas with large amounts of grass pollen, such as parks and fields, should be avoided as grass pollen affects about 95 per cent of hay fever sufferers.

Dr Clark says people who know they have problems should not wait for symptoms to start before using medication, as catching it early can be more effective.

He said: "The unusually warm temperatures and lack of rain this season are ideal conditions to bring on a bout of hay fever.

"While avoidance is the key to reducing symptoms, this can sometimes be difficult to achieve.

"Symptoms can also be relieved with antihistamines and decongestants which reduce sneezing and help a watery, itchy nose as well as improve naval congestion."

Lewes GP Michael Edwards said: "I am seeing more patients every year suffering from hay fever problems.

"At first, they generally put it down to a cold or feeling run down but then they see a pattern emerging and it becomes clear what it is.

"It is a miserable thing for people to have to put up with when they should be out enjoying the good weather.

"Luckily, there is a vast range of treatments that can help which will mean people do not have to spend all the summer hiding away."

There are also a number of homeopathic remedies available for people not keen on taking prescribed drugs and steroids to control their condition.

Clinnix, a medical database used by most UK GPs, is developing a nationwide early-warning system for viruses and allergies and is starting with people who suffer from hay fever.

Medical director William Bird said: "Hay fever is an increasing problem, with more sufferers reporting symptoms each year.

"However, many dont know which pollen causes their hay fever or when to take appropriate medication."

Clinnix is inviting sufferers from all parts of Sussex to join a pollen allergy tracking network by reporting simple, daily data.

All volunteers will be given a Clinnix Health Manager CD-ROM and will therefore need access to a PC and the internet.

The data will be collated to create an accurate map of "pollen allergy hot spots", making sufferers aware of high-risk areas and enabling them to seek early treatment and maintain their therapy for the entire period of risk.

There are no volunteers registered from the southern area and organisers are keen to hear from people interested in taking part.

If you would like to find
out more about becoming a volunteer, call 0800 652 0098 or go to the web site at