Hay fever also known as allergic rhinitis is an allergic response of the body to allergens – indoor and outdoor. These allergens include pollen, dust mites, the saliva of the cats, small skin particles of cats, dogs, and other fur animals.
Hay fever typically causes symptoms such as the cold, runny nose, itchy eyes, congestion, sneezing, and sinus pressure. However, it is not caused due to a virus. The condition can make people, mostly children, feel uncomfortable, sick, and can also hamper performance at work or school. However, with the right treatment, precautions and avoidance of triggers, hay fever can be easily manageable.
Symptoms of hay fever
Hay fever usually has cold-like symptoms, including:
- Runny nose
- Red, watery or itchy eyes (typically caused by the allergens)
- Fatigue and nausea
- Postnasal drip
- Itching in the nose, in the roof of the mouth or the throat
- Swelling and discolouration of the skin under the eyes
That said, these symptoms and more could appear and worse at a particular time of the time. Some of those periods include:
- Early of spring when there is tree pollen
- Late spring or summer which causes grass pollen
- Fall when there is ragweed pollen
Moreover, dust mites, cockroaches, etc. are considered to cause this issue all year round. However, the symptoms in case of dander can intensify in the winters, especially when the houses are mostly closed. Fungi spores can also trigger this issue all-year around.
Typically, hay fever goes off on its own as soon as the exposure to the allergens is removed. However, in cases, where the problem persists or some other symptoms, such as below, appear, a person must seek immediate medical attention:
- There is no relief from hay fever symptoms even after losing contact with the allergens
- Allergy medications have intensified the problem or have not provided any relief to the issue
- Additional health condition such as sinus infection, asthma, etc., which is worsening the symptoms
Distinguish between hay fever and the common cold
Even though hay fever has col-like symptoms, it is not the same as a common cold. Here are some of the common differences between the two:
- Hay fever causes runny nose and water-like discharge without any fever. However, common cold causes mild-fever and results in a runny nose and thick, yellowish discharge.
- Hay fever occurs typically right after the person is exposed to allergens. But common cold happens to post 2-3 days of the exposure to the virus.
- Hay fever lasts as long as the person is exposed to the allergens. However, the common cold goes off between three to seven days.
Causes of hay fever
In the case of hay fever, a person’s immune system takes a non-harmful airborne substance as harmful and starts to produce antibodies to prevent this harmless element. On every occasion that the person makes a contact with the same substance, the antibodies produced for prevention send an alarm to the immune system to release a chemical, known as histamine, in the bloodstream. This chemical causes a reaction in the body of the person and produces symptoms and signs of hay fever.
Risk factors of hay fever
Hay fever can happen to anyone at any age. However, the factors below increase the chances of a person to be affected by the condition:
- A person that has other allergies or asthma
- A person who has eczema
- A person with a family history (mainly parents and siblings) of allergies
- A child whose mother smoked during the first year of his/her life
- People who work or live in areas constantly exposed to allergens
Complications of hay fever
Hay fever, if not treated well, can cause the following complications:
- Interfere with the quality of life by making the person less productive and restricting them to enjoy life to the fullest.
- Hay fever can cause a person to take excessive leaves from work or school
- A person suffering from hay fever can find it difficult to sleep well or might stay awake most hours of the night. This can, in turn, cause tiredness and a feeling of being unwell.
- Hay fever can intensify the problem of asthma in people
- Hay fever can cause sinusitis, which is an infection or the swelling of the membrane which surrounds the sinus.
- Hay fever can cause painful ear infection
Prevention of hay fever
There is no definitive way to avoid hay fever. However, if a person has the issue, taking medications to minimise symptoms and staying away from triggers can help ease the issue.
Diagnosis of hay fever
To diagnose hay fever, the healthcare professional will conduct a quick physical exam, understand the medical history, and then might recommend the following tests to confirm the analysis.
- Skin prick test: In this particular test, the doctor pricks trigger allergens into the skin of the person and then watches for the reaction of the body. In case, a person is allergic, a hive develops in a particular area.
- Allergy blood test: Also known as the radioallergosorbent test (RAST), this measures the body’s immune system response to specific allergens in the lab.
Treatment of hay fever
The best way to treat hay fever is to stay away from allergens and triggers. However, in case the hay fever is not too severe, some over-the-counter medications can work to provide relief from symptoms. In case, the symptoms are worse, the patient would need some prescriptive medications.
Alternatively, some other forms of treatment include allergy shots also known as immunotherapy; under-the-tongue allergy tablets, and frequently rinsing the sinuses.
Overall, hay fever is not a serious medical condition but can cause some very discomforting symptoms and hamper the quality of life if not prevented or treated well.