Allergies Hayfever

Hay fever, also called “allergic rhinitis,” affects more than 20 percent of the population, according to the Mayo Clinic (2010). Spring and summer pollen from blooming plants is the most common hay fever trigger. However, some people experience hay fever all year, in response to outdoor as well as indoor allergens—such as dust mites or pet dander.

What Causes Hay Fever?

Substances are floating constantly in the air, and hay fever may result when these enter the body through the nose, mouth or eyes. Your body’s immune system then overreacts to these substances, creating chemicals called “mediators,” such as histamine. These mediators—which work to expel the substance from the body—cause hay fever symptoms, including runny nose, congestion, sneezing and sinus pressure.

The most common hay fever triggers are pollen and mold spores, although dust mites and pet dander often trigger indoor hay fever. People who are allergic to specific pollens that occur at specific times of the year experience hay fever in seasonal cycles.

Diagnosing Hay Fever

A hay fever diagnosis usually involves a physical exam and discussing your symptoms with your healthcare provider. To determine specific hay fever triggers, your healthcare provider may recommend an allergy blood test or a skin prick test:

  • An allergy blood test (also called the radioallergosorbent, or RAST, test) measures your immune system’s response to a specific substance to determine if you’re allergic to it.
  • During a skin prick test, an allergy specialist uses a needle that contains small amounts of a potential allergen to prick your skin. If you have a reaction, you’re allergic to the substance.

Hay Fever Treatment Options

The best hay fever remedy is to avoid the allergen in question. Since this isn’t always possible, however, you may need to consider other hay fever treatment options. Many different medications can treat hay fever. The right one for you depends on your symptoms and their severity, your age and other medical conditions (especially asthma) that you have.

Many people turn to over-the-counter antihistamines as a hay fever remedy, such as cetirizine (Zyrtec®), diphenhydramine (Benadryl®) or loratadine (Claritin®, Alavert®).

Other hay fever treatment options include:

  • Decongestants, which can help relieve stuffiness.
  • Immunotherapy,which involves allergy shots—given over a time frame of three to five years—that are designed to desensitize your body to the allergens.
  • Nasal corticosteroid sprays, which are available only by prescription, are the most effective treatment for many people.
  • Nasal irrigation, an alternative hay fever treatment that’s widely recommended. It involves rinsing your sinuses with warm, salty water.
  • Prescription antihistamines, whichcan relieve itching, sneezing and a runny nose, but won’t treat congestion.

Whichever treatment you choose, if you ever have an allergic reaction that includes very high fever, trouble breathing, uncontrolled bleeding, ear discharge or a severe earache, go to the emergency room immediately.

Resources

eMedicine. (n.d.). Hay fever. Retrieved August 19, 2010, from http://www.emedicinehealth.com/hay_fever/article_em.htm

Mayo Clinic. (2010). Hay fever. Retrieved August 19, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hay-fever/DS00174

Medline Plus. (2009). Allergic rhinitis. Retrieved August 19, 2010, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000813.htm