Saturday 1 July 2023




It's a good thing bees don't suffer from hay fever!

The pollen count is exceptionally high in UK this year and hay fever sufferers are having a miserable time of it. The pollen from trees, grasses and weeds irritates the nasal passages, causing sneezing, coughing, itchy eyes and sore throat. Any pleasure in experiencing a warm summer day is swiftly negated by the onset of sneezing as soon as any irritant pollen is encountered. The hay fever season can be a very long one for those who are allergic to all pollens.

Tree pollens are released from late March. It is a wonderful sight on a breezy day to see clouds of pollen blowing across the sky, but not if you’re allergic to it. After the trees have finished dispersing their pollen it is the turn of the grasses, which are active from mid-May until July. Weed pollens cause problems from the end of June to September. So, if you’re especially susceptible, for six months of the year, you will be uncomfortable. For those who suffer from asthma it can be particularly problematic.

The NHS suggests wearing wraparound sunglasses to protect eyes from pollen. It also advises the sufferer not to go outside ‘when the pollen count is high, if possible’, which is not practicable for the vast majority of working people.

 Sneezes can be heard all around. The common response in UK when someone sneezes is to say, ‘Bless you’ or ‘God bless you’, to which most people respond, “Thank you.’

One ancient belief was that sneezing endangered the soul, because it left a brief interval for the Devil to enter, while another says that it was a way of expelling evil spirits. A macabre belief claims that the sneezer is closest to death when sneezing. A more prosaic response to a sneeze was to regard it as a sign of illness, though in times of plague, the reaction might be one of alarm, as during the recent Covid-19 pandemic.

Saying ‘God bless you’ was a prayer for the afflicted, a form of protection. It has been suggested that Pope Gregory I instigated the custom during the Bubonic Plague of 590 A.D. in Rome. The first symptom of this frightful disease was severe sneezing, frequently followed by sudden death.

Bubonic plague is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, carried by infected Oriental rat fleas (Xenopsylla cheopsis).

The Plague of Justinian in AD 541-542 was the first recorded occurrence of bubonic plague and is believed to have originated in Lower Egypt, from whence it spread across the Mediterranean in grain ships to the huge city of Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) The disease took hold in the city and wrought its damage for four months. At its peak, as many as 10,000 people a day were dying. By the time it had abated, almost half the city’s population was dead.    

The Justinian plague is believed to have been the precursor of the Roman Bubonic Plague. The pandemic spread across the world and lasted until about 750. Deaths were in the millions.

Pope Gregory the Great urged the healthy to pray for the sneezing sick and commanded that they replace the usual, “May you enjoy good health’ with the more robust, “God bless you”. He advised that people sneezing alone should pray, “God help me”.

The next great bubonic plague pandemic in Europe was the Black Death of 1347 – 1351.

We have much to be thankful for, living in an age when sophisticated medicines can cure diseases that might otherwise kill us.

There is a belief that resisting the urge to sneeze is dangerous. It is said that, though very rare, holding in a sneeze can result in ruptured eardrums and burst blood vessels in the eyes or brain. I can find nothing to corroborate this and tend to take the belief with a pinch of salt.

Nonetheless, it is always a relief to sneeze, to get rid of the irritating tickle.

Bless you! 


  1. Sometimes it does feel good to sneeze. “God Bless you” to all you UK sneezers! Another fun post. Hilltop post

  2. I used to suffer badly from hayfever until it just disappeared around when I turned forty. Nothing else about me physically has improved since then but that made a couple of months of each year much better for me.

  3. I'm pleased for you. My husband's hay fever disappeared just as suddenly as yours, to his relief.

  4. The Bubonic Plague pandemic/Black Death in Europe was indeed a short but terrible era of isolation, pain and death. No matter how rich or influential families were, they suffered in the same way as the poor. So in the absence of medicine, surgery or other treatments, saying God Bless You was as useful (or not) as anything else.

  5. Try as we might, we shall never be clear of terrible diseases. As soon as one is vanquished, another seems to appear, probably having been masked by previous afflictions.

  6. I have been suffering terribly so far this season, starting in April and probably lasting well into Autumn. I wish mine would disappear with age!

    1. I'm sorry to hear that. It's no fun, I know, from observation.

  7. I used to suffer terribly from hayfever when I was a child, not so much now, thank goodness. It's one of those things which I hoped I didn't pass onto my children, Eleanor was the lucky one, Daniel not so lucky. I hope this comment goes through as I've had a couple go missing, another Blogger problem no doubt.

  8. Blogger does seem to be playing up. I think our children failed to inherit hay fever from their father, though our eldest always sneezes three times every morning throughout the year.

  9. Thank you for this post !! Now finally I know what I have since about two month !!!! I always thought I had a cold ! I never was thinking of being allergic ! The symptoms you describe are exactly what I have. Today I my nose was not running and I was surprised. It's strange, there are women allergic to their husbands and I become allergic because he is gone ! In Germany when somebody sneezes they say "Health (Gesundheit) Here you ignore it and in France too. Rick and the Italians say "Salute" which is also "health" ! Apparently nobody says "God bless you" ! "Bless you " would also fit on Muslims !

  10. It's nice to know what you've got, even if it doesn't make it go away!

  11. We say "gezondheid", which translates as "health" (much the same as the Germans and the Italians it seems). I don't really suffer from hay fever, but there are always a few tickles and sneezes when the pollen count is high ... xxx

  12. I will never look at sneezing the same way again, and I hope that god blesses me when I do, whoever she is.


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