As summer approaches, we look forward to spending days at the beach and warm nights around campfires, but for some people summer signals the beginning of hay fever.
Hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, is caused by the body’s allergic reaction to allergens such as pollen, grass, dust mites, or pet dander. Hay fever is common in North America as it affects approximately 20% of the population. For most people, the symptoms of hay fever are worse during the spring, summer or fall. However, others experience symptoms year-round.
Although hay fever is not a life-threatening condition, symptoms can significantly affect a person’s performance at work or school, as well as leisure activities. The good news is hay fever is fairly easy to treat.
The main cause of hay fever is the immune system’s overreaction to harmless airborne substances. When the immune system comes in contact with these substances it releases chemicals, such as histamine, into the bloodstream.
It is these chemicals that are responsible for the symptoms of hay fever. Common seasonal triggers include tree, grass and weed pollen, as well as spores from fungi and molds. Year-round triggers of hay fever include dust mites, dander from pets, as well as spores from indoor fungi and molds. You are more likely to develop hay fever if you have other allergies or asthma or if you were exposed to cigarette smoke the first year of life. Being male also increases your risk.
The symptoms of hay fever usually develop during childhood or early adulthood, although it can begin at any age. In most cases, the symptoms of hay fever tend to diminish slowly over the years.
Common symptoms include runny nose, nasal congestion, watery eyes, as well as sneezing and coughing. Some people also report experiencing an itchy nose, roof of the mouth or throat. Sinus pressure and facial pain may also occur during severe cases of hay fever.
Hay fever is usually more of an irritating condition as oppose to a significant medical problem. However, the symptoms of hay fever can significantly reduce the quality of a person’s life. In severe cases, hay fever can lead to absences from work. In addition, the symptoms of hay fever can disrupt a person’s sleep patterns. In chronic, year-round cases of hay fever, the chances of developing sinus and ear infections increase dramatically.
Hay fever is usually diagnosed by your doctor after taking a detailed medical history and conducting a physical examination. Your doctor may also recommend undergoing special testing to identify specifically what you are allergic to.
A common test is called the Skin Prick Test. This test entails pricking the skin with small amounts of possible allergens and monitoring your body’s response. A positive reaction would cause a small raised bump on the skin. This type of testing is usually performed by an allergy specialist. Blood testing can also be performed to measure your body’s immune response. The good news is hay fever is very treatable. The first form of treatment is to avoid the substances that cause your reaction. However, this is not always the most practical solution.
In mild cases, over-the-counter medications may suffice. Antihistamines are the most commonly prescribed medication for hay fever. These medications work by blocking histamine, which is responsible for many of the symptoms associated with hay fever.
It is important to note that some of these medications may cause you to become drowsy. Thus it is important to discuss it with your physician before taking any of these medications. Nasal corticosteroids are used to reduce nasal inflammation and runny nose. These are administered in the form of nose sprays.
For many people, nasal corticosteroids are a safe long-term treatment option. Another group of medications are called decongestants. This class of medication is designed to reduce congestion in the sinuses.
There are several side-effects associated with decongestants, which include increased blood pressure, insomnia, irritability and headache. As such, they are designed for short-term use only. By discussing your particular case with your doctor, he/she will be able to best advise you as to which medication is best for you.
Clearly, it is not possible to completely avoid all potential allergens. However, knowing what particular allergens affect you most will help limit your exposure to them.
Presently, there is no way to avoid developing hay fever. However, studies have shown that reducing a child’s exposure to allergy causing substances such as mold and dust mites, may delay or reduce the chances of developing hay fever.