If you’ve got hay fever, then you probably spend the spring and summer seasons stuffed up or sneezing. Hay fever, which is also known as allergic rhinitis, is an allergic reaction to outdoor and indoor allergens, such as pollen or pet dander. It’s common, affecting about one in five people. Some people suffer with hay fever year-round while others find it worsens at particular times of year, usually in spring, summer or fall. Whenever it strikes, it can make you feel lousy, impacting your sleep and quality of life, worsen asthma and also make you more prone to a sinus infection called sinusitus.
Hay fever causes Hay fever is an allergic response to allergens, including pollen, dust mites or dander. Allergies develop when your immune system mistakes an airborne substance as something harmful and produces antibodies to it. When you have contact with the substance, your immune system releases histamines which cause the symptoms of hay fever. Triggers include tree, grass and weed pollen and mould and fungus spores, which are more likely to be present in the warmer months. Pet dander and dust mites or cockroaches are triggers that are present year-round. People who get eczema, a skin condition which can be caused by allergens, may also get hay fever.
Hay fever symptoms Hay fever can feel like a cold with symptoms including congestion, sneezing, watery eyes, a runny or itchy nose and sinus pressure.
Hay fever diagnosis/tests See your doctor who may refer you to an allergist for treatment. She’ll ask about your symptoms and medical history and may run tests to confirm a diagnosis. These may include a skin prick test, where the skin on your arm or back is pricked with a small amount of allergen and then observed for a reaction, such as a hive. Your allergist may also conduct a blood test, called a RAST (radioallergosorbent) test to measure the amount of allergy-causing antibodies in your bloodstream to find out if you’re sensitive to certain allergens.
Hay fever treatment Treating hay fever often involves the following:
- Avoiding triggers Minimizing your contact with the substances, such as pet dander or pollen, that cause your reaction is essential.
- Medications Over-the-counter medications, such as antihistamines and decongestants, may be enough to relieve your symptoms. If your hay fever is more severe, you may need a prescription for medications, such as nasal sprays to treat inflammation and prevent the release of histamines.
- Immunotherapy Another option is immunotherapy or allergy shots, regular injections of tiny amounts of allergens to get your body used to them and reduce your need for medications.
- Alternative medicine There isn’t much supporting evidence but herbal remedies such as butterbur and alternative therapies, including acupuncture, have been used for hay fever.
Hay fever prevention There’s no known way to prevent hay fever. Your best bet is to reduce your exposure to your triggers which may mean spending less time outside to avoid pollens; using an air conditioner; cleaning your home thoroughly to remove dust and lowering the humidity to reduce mould growth; and avoiding animals if you’re allergic to their dander. Also, take your medication as directed.