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Everything you need to know about hay fever

Hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, is a common condition with similar symptoms to a cold. Sneezing, congestion, runny nose and the pressure on the sinus can occur.

It is caused by an allergic response to substances which are in the air, such as pollen. The time of year it happens depends on what substance, or allergen, the person reacts to.

It is caused by an allergic response to substances which are in the air, such as pollen. The time of year that happens depends on the person ‘s reaction to which substance, or allergen.

Despite its name, hay fever does not mean that the person is allergic to hay and has a fever. Hay is hardly ever an allergen, nor is fever a symptom.

Allergic rhinitis is the fifth most common illness in the U.S.

Important facts about hay fever

  • Allergic rhinitis, often called hay fever, can cause sneezing, a stuffy or runny nose, watery eyes, and itching of the nose, eyes or the roof of the mouth.
  • In the U.S., 20 million people aged 18 years and over were diagnosed with hay fever in 2016, or 8.2 percent of the adult population. Nine percent of children, or 6.1 million, received a diagnosis.
  • Seasonal allergic rhinitis is more common in the spring, summer, and early fall.
  • Symptoms are usually caused by allergic sensitivity to pollens from trees, grasses, or weeds, or to airborne mold spores.
  • Treatment includes avoiding, eliminating, or decreasing exposure to allergens, medication, and immunotherapy, or allergy shots.

Symptoms

Hay fever is sometimes, but not always, related to pollen.
Hay fever is sometimes, but not always, related to pollen.

Symptoms may begin at different times of the year, depending on which substance the patient is allergic to.

When the pollen count is high a person who is allergic to a specific pollen may have more serious symptoms.

Symptoms common to all include:

  • sneezing
  • watery eyes
  • itchy throat
  • a blocked, itchy, or runny nose

Severe symptoms may include:

  • sweats
  • headaches
  • loss of smell and taste
  • facial pain caused by blocked sinuses
  • itchiness spreading from the throat to the nose and ears

Some people may experience fatigue, tiredness, irritability and insomnia.

People with asthma at times when hay fever symptoms are normal can experience more wheezing and breathlessness.

Treatment

A variety of over-the-counter ( OTC) treatments may help regulate hay fever. Sometimes, it is best to combine two or three. A physician can advise about options.

Medications

These include:

Antihistamine sprays or tablets: Commonly available OTC, these stop the release of the chemical histamine. These usually alleviate signs of runny nose, coughing, and sneezing effectively, but they do not unblock congested sinuses. Older antihistamines can cause drowsiness.

Eye drops: This decreases itching and face swelling. Usually, they are used alongside other medicines. Cromoglycate is also found in eye drops.

Nasal corticosteroids: These sprays are used to relieve inflammation from hay fever. They provide long-term care which is safe and reliable. It may take a week for benefits to show.

Fluticasone (Flonase), fluticasone (Veramyst), mometasone (Nasonex), and beclomethasone (Beconase) are instances.

An unpleasant smell or taste, or irritation to the nose can occur.

Oral corticosteroids: Severe symptoms of hay fever can respond well to tablets of prednisone, prescribed by a doctor. These are only for short term use. Cataracts, muscle weakness and osteoporosis are related to long-term use.

Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy can provide long-term relief by slowly desensitizing the immune system to the symptom-triggering allergens. It is usually received in the form of allergy shots or sublingual drops for people whose symptoms are severe, and after other treatments have not been cleared.

Immunotherapy can lead to a permanent remission of allergy symptoms, which can help prevent asthma which new allergies from developing.

Injections are given by a doctor but can be taken at home by sublingual immunotherapy, or medication that is dissolved under the tongue.

Alternative therapies

Alternative therapies claiming to treat hay fever include acupuncture, but no significant improvements were confirmed by the study results.

No herbal remedies are recommended.

Before taking any medication, it is important to talk to a doctor during pregnancy to avoid potential adverse effects on the fetal development.

Diagnosis

pinprick test
A pinprick test can identify what is causing the allergic reaction.

A doctor should look at the symptoms and inquire their personal and family medical background in order to determine the correct care.

A blood or skin test may assess which substance is allergic to the patient.

The skin is pricked with a minute of a recognized allergen in a skin check.

A blood test indicates the amount of the antibodies IgE. Unless there is an allergy that would be severe. The test takes about 20 minutes to complete.

Zero IgE antibodies show no sensitivity, while 6 show very high sensitivity.

Another skin-prick procedure involves injecting an allergen under the skin and testing about 20 minutes later for a reaction.

What is hay fever?

Hay fever is an allergic reaction to substances released into the air, such as pollen.

An allergy happens when a toxic material is misunderstood by the immune system, and the body releases chemicals to counter it.

The symptoms are caused by this reaction.

Allergens are often common substances that are either not reacted to or reacted mildly by the immune system in most people.

Some people need treatment however, as their symptoms make it hard to complete their everyday tasks.

Treatment may not eliminate symptoms but its impact may be reduced.

Home treatment

An person cannot prevent an allergy from developing but people with hay fever can consider some strategies useful to mitigate the effect.

Here are some tips:

  • Be aware of the pollen count during susceptible months. Information is available through the internet and other media. Pollen count tends to be higher on humid and windy non-rainy days and during the early evening.
  • Keep windows and doors shut when the pollen count is high.
  • Avoid mowing the lawn during susceptible months, choose low-pollen days for gardening, and keep away from grassy areas when pollen counts are high.
  • Regularly splash the eyes with cool water, to sooth them and clear them of pollen.
  • Shower and change your clothes after coming indoors, when pollen counts are high.
  • Use wrap-around glasses to protect the eyes from pollen.
  • Wear a hat to prevent pollen from collecting in the hair and then sprinkling down onto the eyes and face.
  • Have your car fitted with a pollen filter, and drive with the windows closed at high-count times.
  • Do not have flowers inside your home.
  • Keep all surfaces, floors, and carpets as dust free as possible.
  • Choose a vacuum cleaner with a good filter.
  • Use “mite-proof” bedding.
  • Use a dehumidifier to prevent mold.
  • Keep away from cigarette smoke, and quit, if you are a smoker.
  • Wash pets when they come indoors on a high pollen count day, or smooth their fur down with a damp cloth.
  • Smear Vaseline around the inside edges of your nostrils, as it helps stop pollen from getting through.
  • Ask a physician for a plan, if you know your susceptible time is just around the corner.

Causes

Hay fever happens when the immune system mistakes an airborne material which is usually harmless to a threat.

To combat the danger, the body produces an antibody, called immunoglobulin E (IgE), and releases the chemical histamine. Histamine elicits the effects.

Seasonal hay fever triggers include pollen and spores at certain times of the year that only cause symptoms.

Examples of hay fever triggers include:

  • tree pollen in the spring
  • grass pollen in late spring and summer
  • weed pollen, especially during fall
  • fungi and mold spores, more common in warm weather

Other triggers are pet hair or dander, dust mites, cockroach dust and mold. Cigarette smoke, perfumes, and diesel exhaust fumes are all irritants that can lead to symptoms of hay fever.

Risk factors

The risk of hay fever is increased by some factors.

Genetic factors: If there is hay fever or other allergy on a close family member, the risk is higher.

Other allergies or asthma: People with other allergies or asthma also have a greater chance of having hay fever.

Sex and age: hay fever is more common among boys before adolescence but females are more affected after adolescence.

Birth date: High pollen season born people have a significantly higher chance of having hay fever.

Second-hand smoke: The risk of hay fever rises when exposed to cigarette smoke during the early years of life.

Other factors include being the firstborn, originating from a smaller family or a family with higher income. These last three risk factors may be linked to infections in the childhood.

An infant with less infections in the childhood can run a higher risk of autoimmune problems later in life.

Outlook

There is no cure for hay fever nowadays. In the periods of the year, however, symptoms may be controlled which have a high pollen count.

Treatment will start 3 months before the season in which pollen spreads for the treatment to function in the first year.

Continued treatment can reduce the symptoms, improve immunity to the allergen and improve the quality of life. It has been shown that three years of treatment will lead to long-term desensitization against pollen.

If symptoms do not substantially improve after one year, however, medication should be stopped, because it is unlikely to work.

Hay fever, moving into the lungs and developing into allergic asthma, can become even more serious. Those with a pollen allergy can also have a higher risk of developing other allergies, such as food intolerances.

Severe hay fever can also make the nose’s mucous membranes more sensitive to other irritants, such as smoke from cigarettes or dry air. That can result in sinusitis.

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