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Streaming eyes and nose – it must be exam time!

Posted 10/08/2010 by RoseS

August is a month to be dreaded if one is awaiting exam results, but usually the period when one sits examinations is one that must be endured – even more so if one is a hayfever sufferer. As one of that unhappy group, I well remember sitting with streaming eyes and nose through GCEs and finals! Thankfully for me at least the prediction that it will disappear with age appears to have come true, but for many others the misery goes on.

But August is also known as the ‘Silly season’ in magazine and newspaper publishing circles, with stories that would never ‘have legs’ during the rest of the year, like the annual one, that has just surfaced again, about UFOs, taking over news pages and time as the stream of really important news – the stuff of wars, famines, business failures, disasters and accidents – tends to slow down.

Well perhaps not this year, with tales of woe about the economy from every direction, continuing problems for BP in the Gulf of Mexico and more recently at its troubled Texas City refinery, war in Afghanistan, floods in Pakistan, and many other stories pushing the season’s usual lightweight stories off the front pages and number one news slots.

Pity the Future Science Group then, which has chosen August to launch its campaign to transfer examinations to a more suitable winter period. It may seem a typical silly season story, but as the group points out: ‘Crucial exams take place during adolescence in most societies, which can have a major impact on an individual’s career trajectory.’

While uncontrolled hayfever, or seasonal or intermittent allergic rhinitis as it should more correctly be defined, can significantly reduce quality of life, there is substantial evidence that exam preparation and performance can also be adversely affected, especially if patients are taking sedating medications to control their hayfever symptoms.

Examination boards already recognise that health problems can impact performance and have introduced measures to acknowledge this, for example, by offering extra time to complete exams for candidates with dyslexia, but hayfever remains unrecognised.

Unfortunately while critical examinations for 15-18 year old students are held in the UK during May and June when grass pollen counts are usually at their highest, we cannot ignore the fact that tree pollens tend to peak from late February to the middle of May as well, when those same students are revising.

The Future Science Group therefore quotes the authors of a guest editorial in the August issue of Expert Review of Respiratory Medicine who believe that, in the longer-term, a review of course and exam timetabling should be undertaken to involve consideration of a winter month examination period to limit the effect hayfever may have on young sufferers’ exam results.

But if we can’t change the dates of our exams, perhaps we should send all our young exam candidates to Australia where they can enjoy the slide of autumn into winter while they revise and sit their examinations – but what about all those poisonous spiders and snakes?

Neil Eisberg - Editor

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