Norfolk scientists launch ground-breaking hayfever research

Steve DownesNorfolk scientists are launching groundbreaking research to find out if humble yoghurt drinks could hold the key to ending hay fever misery for millions of people.Steve Downes

Norfolk scientists are launching groundbreaking research to find out if humble yoghurt drinks could hold the key to ending hay fever misery for millions of people.

The debilitating condition, which has no cure, makes the summer months unbearable for many as they suffer itchy eyes, streaming noses and constant sneezing.

As many as 15m people across Britain are estimated to suffer from hay fever, with East Anglia the region with the highest prevalence.

Although no specific figures are available, health chiefs estimate that there are up to 150,000 sufferers in the NHS Norfolk area and 57,500 in Great Yarmouth and Waveney.


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Now people in the county are being asked to take part in a trial that could bring them much-needed relief - thanks to something on a supermarket shelf or in their fridge.

Experts at the University of East Anglia (UEA) and Norwich Research Park (NRP) are calling for 60 volunteers to help in their work as they seek a breakthrough in treatment of the condition, which affects 600m people worldwide, with the numbers rising each year.

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Apart from bringing relief, the year-long study could save people hundreds of pounds, which they spend on a mixture of homeopathic and drug treatments in a bid to ease the symptoms.

The team of researchers has already completed a pilot study on a small group of people with hayfever (seasonal allergic rhinitis), which found yoghurt drinks containing Lactobacillus casei Shirota (LcS) can modulate immune system responses.

The team of six is led by Dr Andrew Wilson, an expert in allergy and respiratory medicine at the university's school of medicine, health policy and practice.

Alongside the condition's usual symptoms, it can also lead to asthma, cause interrupted sleep and impair concentration at school or work. It is at its worst during the traditional school exam season and causes significant disruption for many young people.

It is estimated that UK businesses will lose around �324m through days lost to hay fever this summer alone.

Dr Wilson said: 'Previous studies in this area have been inconclusive, but our pilot is the first to identify that probiotic substances - such as in these drinks - can regulate the immune system.

'We are now looking for volunteers to help us take our study forward. The benefits of a reasonably cheap and self-administered non-drug treatment are clear.

'Our study will also provide evidence about the viability of the many health claims around these products which could result in clear guidance for the general public.'

Dr Wilson, who has endured hay fever since he was a child, said the study would begin this winter in 'controlled laboratory conditions'.

He said: 'We will give each volunteer a dose of pollen until they reach a threshold, which will be different for different people.

'It needs to be conducted in the lab because pollen counts are so unpredictable. One day may be bad, another may be not so bad.'

Volunteers must be over 16 and will be asked to attend the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital seven times over a four month period. All volunteers will benefit from an allergy and respiratory MOT, find out what they are allergic to, have their breathing tested and have expenses of up to �250 paid.

For further information, potential volunteers can call Dr Wilson on 01603 289876 or email respiratory.research@nnuh.nhs.uk.

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