Hayfever affects up to one in five people in the UK at some point in their life. Most symptoms appear any time from March to September. Yet hayfever shouldn’t be seen as just a seasonal issue.
‘Pharmacists should be prepared to offer advice about hayfever and allergies all year round, rather than just during the summer months,’ says Ruth Giles of Galpharm International. ‘Sales of Galpharm Hayfever and Allergy Relief Tablets have significantly increased during the winter months with consistent sales throughout the year, rather than just a peak in the summer. This marked change in consumer purchasing behaviour is probably due to allergies being triggered all year round by a number of allergens including grass and tree pollen, house dust mites, pet hair, fungal or mould spores, latex and household chemicals.’
Last year saw one of the strongest hayfever seasons for decades, as a cold winter and late spring led to multiple pollens being released at the same time, sending levels soaring. ‘There were record allergy sales in 2013, with 4.5 million new consumers in the category,’ says Hannah Allchin, Piri brand manager. ‘The important issue this year is how to keep these consumers in the 2014 hayfever season. A YouGov poll in 2012 revealed that 24 per cent of allergy sufferers wait until their symptoms are severe before treating them. This provides a good opportunity for pharmacists and pharmacy staff, as customers should be treating their symptoms when they first occur. Research also shows that half of users are not satisfied with their current medication, and the YouGov survey found that 78 per cent of allergy sufferers are up to trying something new for their symptoms.’
According to Stuart White, marketing manager for Omega Pharma’s hayfever portfolio, pharmacy staff should reinforce the importance of using the selected hayfever product correctly to ensure optimum relief. ‘Omega Pharma has developed a free, bespoke hayfever training module, available here, which covers scenario-based learning as well as category information and product advice,’ he says.
Last month Omega Pharma launched BecoAllergy, a one-a-day tablet for hayfever relief
that is suitable for children as young as six. BecoAllergy will be advertised on prime-time channels in June and July, when the hayfever season is well and truly under way. Mr White says: ‘Our research suggests 67 per cent of hayfever sufferers use tablets for symptom relief. We hope the introduction of BecoAllergy tablets to our existing hayfever portfolio, Prevalin Allergy and Beconase nasal sprays, will provide the opportunity to boost sales in this category.’
Omega Pharma will be supporting its hayfever portfolio with a targeted consumer and trade PR campaign in April and May, which will again feature community pharmacist Nick Kaye, alongside a seal of approval from Allergy UK. Speaking about the campaign, Mr Kaye says: ‘I’m thrilled to be supporting the Omega Pharma hayfever portfolio for the second year running. Hayfever can be a debilitating condition and pharmacists play a key role in advising customers on treatment compliance as well as the options available.’
Ms Giles says that hayfever and allergy symptoms may necessitate a ‘distress’ purchase, meaning that customers need an effective treatment quickly. Galpharm Hayfever & Allergy Relief (cetirizine 10mg tablets) and Galpharm One- a-Day Allergy Relief (loratadine 10mg tablets) are now available in packs of 30, with GSL status. Both products will also continue to be available in smaller GSL packs of seven and 14.
‘The two new Galpharm hayfever and allergy pack sizes are in the new larger maximum allowable 30 tablet sizes available as GSL in the UK,’ says Ruth Giles. ‘We know from consumer research that pack size is important in purchasing decisions and larger pack sizes are valued by consumers. We will continue to supply smaller sizes as well to offer customers choice and convenience.’
While hayfever is often seen as a minor irritation, coping with the symptoms on a day-to-day basis can become unbearable for many people, affecting their work, studies and social lives. A survey of 2,000 UK adults by Opticrom Hayfever Eye Drops last year revealed that nearly a quarter of hayfever sufferers feel their symptoms have got worse in the previous 12 months, with itchy eyes and runny noses being the most common complaints.
According to the Murine brand manager, many hayfever sufferers experience only eye symptoms, yet they go straight to tablets, unaware there is a topical solution. ‘Pharmacists should discuss what symptoms the customer is experiencing and how long they have been present,’ she says. ‘They should also establish what action or medication has already been taken before recommending an effective product. Red, itchy, watery, hayfever eyes can be effectively treated with Murine Hayfever Relief Eye Drops.’
Pharmacy teams will want to make sure customers’ paticular symptoms are being met by
their treatment choice, says GSK. This year, GSK is promoting its Piri range with a £1 million advertising campaign from May to August. ‘Piriteze, for mild to moderate hayfever sufferers, offers all-day relief and is ideal for new hayfever sufferers when they first come in to the pharmacy,’ says Hannah Allchin. ‘Moderate to severe sufferers need to trade up to Pirinase, as it can treat and prevent hayfever symptoms, especially nasal congestion. Allergy education through the MyPharmassist website has been refreshed for this year.’
Meda Pharmaceuticals has developed a PGD allowing pharmacists to supply patients with Dymista, the nasal spray for the management of seasonal and perennial allergic rhinitis. To register and train for the free programme, pharmacists can visit www.pharmacypgd.co.uk. The training enables pharmacists to supply patients with one Dymista nasal spray (23g), with a maximum of three bottles within any six months.
Not all pharmacy customers can, or will want to, use conventional hayfever remedies. Juliette Holmes, Stérimar Sea Water Nasal Spray brand manager, says that pharmacists should be aware of natural alternatives. ‘Asking if the customer is currently on any medications or if they would like to try natural alternatives could be a topic of discussion, as it gives customers a wider choice of treatment,’ she says.
Alessandra Godio, Nelsons brand manager, says that consumers are becoming increasingly open to exploring natural treatments. ‘It’s important the pharmacist provides advice as not all hayfever treatments are the same,’ she says. ‘Nelsons Pollenna had a great year in 2013, closing at + 59 per cent versus 2012. Forty-four per cent of adults have suffered from some form of allergy.’
Nasalguard’s exclusivity deal with Boots ended in March, making the product now available for independent pharmacies to stock. ‘Most allergy solutions are used to treat hayfever symptoms not to prevent them,’ says Ashok Wahi, inventor of NasalGuard gel. ‘NasalGuard Allergie Block is a clinically proven preventive treatment that brings additional buyers into the category. Thirty to 40 per cent of people who bought this product hadn’t bought any allergy treatment product in the past.’
Max Wiseberg, managing director for HayMax, believes that offering pollen barriers, acupressure bands and nasal washes alongside conventional treatments gives good results for the customer, especially those not choosing to take conventional medicines. ‘HayMax is running an extensive 2014 marketing campaign, which includes TV, radio, social media, major press PR and advertising for the brand,’ he says. ‘The brand is making extra special efforts this year to reach out to midwives and antenatal teachers, as the drug-free balm offers brilliant allergen-trapping capabilities for pregnant and breastfeeding women who suffer from hayfever, dust and pet allergies.’
After a highly prevalent season last year, what is predicted for hayfever sufferers this spring and summer? Beverley Adams-Groom, chief palynologist at the National Pollen and Aerobiology Research Unit, told P3:
‘Current indications suggest rather average pollen seasons this year. Pharmacists should encourage patients to keep an eye on the pollen forecast and ensure they start taking medication in advance. Once a hayfever attack has occurred it makes the respiratory system much more sensitive. We supply a year-round weekly forecast on all allergenic pollen types on our website, which can be advertised in- store.’
The tree pollen types that have already become airborne have all started around their usual start dates, she says. ‘The birch pollen season is expected to be of average strength and duration. It’s too early to say much about the grass pollen season, but the long-range spring weather forecast suggests reasonable conditions for grass growth and pollen production so, again, we would anticipate an average season.’
Pharmacies can beat the competition in this category by focusing on counselling and advice.
Fiona McElrea, pharmacist at Whithorn Pharmacy, Whithorn ‘This is a very important category for us, mainly in the warmer months, but generally all year round. We offer advice on treating and preventing hayfever. Branded products are now less popular and have been replaced by generics, eg cetirizine, loratadine and chlorphenamine. Most regular allergy sufferers like to stay with the products they know work for them and some are brand specific. We do therefore still keep Clarityn, Piriton and Zirtek in small amounts. Eye drops and nasal sprays are also popular, including Beconase, Opticrom (which has been hard to source), Oprex and Murine. We also sell Prevalin, which, due to it containing no active drug, is suitable for a wider range of patients. I do think that pharmacies are the first port of call for many hayfever sufferers. We do supply some items through our Minor Ailments Service, but many hayfever sufferers are not eligible for this, so purchase the products.’
Ani Patel, Savages Pharmacy, Burnham-on-Crouch ‘This is an important category for us. Patients and customers prefer buying from us because of the advice and guidance we give with each sale. We stock the main brands and generic equivalents in the P-packs only. In this way, sales are kept to a decent numerical value and we avoid the ‘£1 special’ trap where high volumes are needed to compensate on low margins. We are not a pound shop. We tend to do quite well over the course of the hayfever season. My advice to colleagues is to stock up on these products early, especially the eye drops, because stock becomes unavailable in peak season. Pharmacies can definitively beat the competition in this category by focusing on counselling and advice. Link selling with sun creams and insect repellents is also a must.’
William Hughes, RJ Jones Pharmacy, Nefyn ‘At this time of the year we sit down with staff and make sure that everyone is confident giving advice to hayfever sufferers. We go through the product range and the advantages and disadvantages of using each product – we really want to ensure that staff engage with customers, because this category is such an important one for us. I think that patients are very receptive to having the information readily available. The biggest challenge to the pharmacy is that supermarkets are under-cutting us in this category. But we can fight our own corner, because we’re ready to give the advice that the supermarkets don’t. We’re able to explain how and why each product works and make recommendations that a self-select counter in a supermarket won’t be able to. Some customers will require the medication for four months and will return to buy more over that time, helping to create a loyal customer base.’