Hay fever is an allergic reaction to any number of pollutants. Also known as allergic rhinitis, it is generally a seasonal disease. For some individuals, it’s perennial, with causes coming from common sources throughout the year. In the spring, tree pollens may cause a reaction, while in summer it could be grasses. Fall brings on ragweed allergies to many. Hay fever remedies abound in both over-the-counter and prescription forms. As individual symptoms vary, it’s important to pinpoint the exact cause with the help of a specialist.
Hay Fever and Its Symptoms
What is hay fever? It’s often an inherited disease, but children may react to different allergens than their parents. Initial symptoms can occur at any age. Even a mild reaction can interfere with regular activities.
The release of histamine in the system is a main cause of hay fever. This chemical resides in cells and responds when the body indicates irritation from an outside source. However, an overreaction of histamine causes nasal passages to become inflamed. The body typically responds in this way to bacterial or viral invasions. In the case of hay fever, immune responses treat pollens in much the same manner.
Familiar symptoms of hay fever are:
- itchy eyes
- runny nose
- watery, reddened eyes.
Ear problems are also a common symptom in children. Severe or prolonged cases of hay fever can turn into sinusitis. Other diseases and illnesses, such as asthma and eczema, are often part of the hay fever sufferer’s medical profile.
Hay Fever Triggers
Pollens in the air are the main triggers for seasonal hay fever. These come from grasses, weeds and trees. Ragweed may be the most familiar, but many other types of vegetation cause reactions. In addition, certain mold spores are also sources of irritation.
Many types of triggers, usually found indoors, can cause perennial hay fever as well. These include pet dander and dust mites. Other common sources include:
- household cleaners
- tobacco smoke.
Diagnosing Hay Fever
If hay fever symptoms linger or severely affect your daily life, consider seeking treatment from a professional. Sometimes medications begin to fail, which is another reason for consulting with an expert for further suggestions.
The symptoms of hay fever can mimic other illnesses or diseases, such as colds or other types of allergies, including variations of rhinitis. A medical expert will want to know when the symptoms appear. In the cases of seasonal attacks, this will be helpful in making a hay fever diagnosis.
Testing for hay fever is relatively simple and painless. A skin test helps determine what types of allergens might be causing a reaction. In this procedure, the health professional applies small pollutants from various substances underneath the skin. If the area becomes reddened or a mosquito-bite like bump appears, that may be the source of hay fever symptoms.
The RAST (radioallergosorbent test) involves drawing blood to look for IgE antibodies in elevated amounts. An allergy specialist will typically administer both these tests.
For some patients, a skin test is inadvisable. They may have other medical conditions or there may be risks of a severe reaction even with the smallest injection.
Lifestyle Adjustments to Avoid Triggers
As the seasons chance, it may be time to make a few lifestyle adjustments. These will help reduce or eliminate seasonal hay fever symptoms.
- Change clothing after extended time outdoors. Fabrics trap particles that can trigger or prolong symptoms.
- Limit outdoor activities on high pollen count days. Typically, the hours between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m. are peak pollen hours.
- Remain indoors on windy days during the peak season.
- Replace home air filters on a regular basis. Consider switching to specialty HEPA filters and air purifiers, which trap a higher amount of allergens in the air.
- Use air conditioning whenever possible during the season. This includes at home and in vehicles.
Treatments for Hay Fever
Individuals with mild hay fever symptoms may benefit from simple over-the-counter medications. These are antihistamine-based products manufactured by several companies. Newer brands eliminate or reduce common side effects such as drowsiness.
Combination drugs include both an antihistamine and a decongestant. This two-prong approach is helpful for short-term use, typically no more than three days. Corticosteroids in spray and pill form are often beneficial for more severe cases.
Allergy shots can build up resistance to certain allergens. Over months or years of treatment, these might reduce or eliminate symptoms.
For home remedies, a saltwater solution can help. Specialists may also recommend leukotriene modifiers and nasal atropine in prescription form.
Some common sense will apply when hay fever season rolls around. An individual diagnosed with grass allergies should not perform yard work. In the case of perennial hay fever, reducing dust buildup will help. It’s not possible to eliminate or avoid all triggers. A proper diagnosis, however, will possibly pinpoint the source so that sufferers can do everything possible to stay healthy.
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