What is hay fever?
is medically known as ‘seasonal allergic rhinitis’ it causes an inflammationand irritation in the delicate linings of the nasal passage, throat and eyes. Hay fever commonly appears around the age 11-12, the symptoms usually peak in the 20’s and early 30’s then gradually disappear. However, more and more people are beginning to experience hay fever for the first time in their 30’s.
Hay Fever affects 15 – 20% of the population in the United Kingdom and is the most common of allergic conditions. Those who suffer from hay fever may also have symptoms of asthma.
Although we still use the term ‘hay fever’, in fact a fever is not a symptom of the disease, nor is it due to hay.
What other types of allergic rhinitis are there?
Allergic rhinitis is a general term given to an allergic reaction that causes inflammation of the nose. There are two types of allergic rhinitis, seasonal allergic rhinitis and perennial allergic rhinitis. Seasonal rhinitis is when you only experience symptoms during the spring and summer pollen season. When the majority of people say they have hay fever, it usually means seasonal allergic rhinitis.
Perennial rhinitis is when you experience symptoms all year around. Perennial rhinitis is usually caused by indoor allergens, such as house dust mites, moulds and animal fur. Click here to read the page on pet allergies. The symptoms are similar to those of hay fever though you may feel like you have a permanent cold and suffer with a blocked nose and sore throat.
What causes hay fever?
Hay fever is caused by an allergic reaction to the allergen pollen. When pollen particles are breathed in the body’s immune system overreacts, as it believes it to be a harmful substance. The body then produces an antibody, immunoglobulin E (IgE) to fight it off. The IgE antibody stimulates the release of certain chemicals, in particular histamine, to flush the pollen out of the airways. It is this process, which causes the many symptoms associated with hay fever.
Pollen is a grain used to transport the male DNA to the female part of the flower. There are many different types of pollen but in most cases of hay fever the most common allergen in the U.K. is grass pollen. Other common allergens include tree pollens, such as alder, birch, willow and hazel, and from weeds, such as mugwort and docks. A person suffering from hay fever may be allergic to several of these allergens or just to one. People tend to suffer more when outdoors, particularly on hot windy days, when the levels of pollen are high.
If you tend to suffer your hay fever symptoms in early spring then it is most likely an allergy to tree pollens, if you suffer more in the summer then it is more likely to be a grass pollen allergy.
What are the symptoms of allergic rhinitis?
The severity of symptoms can vary, affecting some mildly and others quite severely. In most cases symptoms can be prevented, however, if not treated effectively allergic rhinitis can affect your general health and lifestyle.
Symptoms of both seasonal allergic rhinitis and perennial rhinitis can include:
- A runny, sometimes streaming nose.
- Stuffy, blocked nose.
- Itching in the throat and nose.
- Headaches (also known as sinusitis).
- Watery, itchy, red eyes.
- Inability to taste or smell food.
- Disturbed sleep.
- Itchy ears.
How do I know if I have hay fever?
Due to the similarities between a common cold and hay fever it can sometimes be very difficult to differentiate between the two, especially when the symptoms are brief and irregular.
The symptoms related to hay fever will come and go throughout the summer months and vary in severity. Itchy, watery eyes usually accompany hay fever but are not normally a cold symptom. You will also begin to notice a pattern in the times of year when you have the attacks.
The symptoms of hay fever will disappear when the allergen is removed or a suitable treatment is used.
- Almost half of those who suffer from hay fever say their work is affected, the main causes being irritability and lack of concentration.
- During the hay fever season sufferers claim to feel unhappy and depressed.
- 10% of hay fever sufferers have taken time off from work as a result of the related symptoms.
- Many sufferers said they are self-conscious about the effects hay fever has on their appearance, therefore affecting their social lives.
Is there anything I can do to prevent allergic rhinitis?
To lessen symptoms you need to avoid contact with the allergens, which cause your symptoms. To prevent hay fever try the following tips:
- Keep doors and windows shut at home and in your car on high pollen count days.
- Wear sunglasses or glasses when outdoors.
- Avoid mowing or weeding the lawn in the summer and avoid lying on freshly cut grass.
- Apply a thin layer of Vaseline™ just inside nostrils to trap pollen.
- Wash your clothes after going out, as pollen can stick to your garments.
- Keep your bedding clean.
- Shower or bathe before going to bed to wash off pollen in your hair and on your skin.
- Avoid going outdoors in the early evening when the pollen count is usually at its highest.
To prevent perennial allergic rhinitis symptoms try the following:
- Dust and vacuum your house regularly to minimise the presence of dust and therefore the dust mite.
- Use special bed and pillow coverings.
- Hot wash all bedding at least once a week.
- Avoid having pets but if you do, bathe them regularly, keep them outside and never allow them in the bedroom.
How is allergic rhinitis diagnosed?
Allergic rhinitis is usually diagnosed from symptoms alone, especially in the case of hay fever. Perennial rhinitis is more difficult to diagnose, your doctor might suggest you keep a record of all your symptoms, when they occur and when they are at their worst. This might help identify what is triggering the symptoms to occur.
Your doctor may suggest you have an allergy test to confirm exactly what you are allergic to. For more information on these tests read the section “How are allergies diagnosed?” on the allergies page.
What treatment is available for allergic rhinitis?
As with all allergies the best treatment is to try to identify the allergens that you are allergic to and then if possible try to avoid them.
There are also various treatments available to relieve and prevent the symptoms of allergic rhinitis. The most popular medication available contains antihistamines. There is a wide choice of antihistamine tablets available to buy over the counter, they work by blocking the effect of histamine, so giving you quick relief from most of your symptoms. There are also antihistamine sprays and drops available which target the most affected areas, e.g. the eyes or nose. Your pharmacist will be able to help and advise you on which products are best for you.
If you are suffering from nasal congestion you may need a corticosteroid nasal spray, which contains steroids. The nasal spray works directly on the nose, to relieve the symptoms. This type of treatment does not usually cause steroid side effects as the dose is very small. However, some people report occasional nose bleeds. Corticosteroids may also be given in tablet form if symptoms are very bad. Corticosteroids dampen down the immune system’s response by reducing inflammation and so reducing the associated symptoms. To be totally effective this type of treatment needs to be used regularly.
If your symptoms are more severe and ongoing, antihistamines will probably not be effective enough. If you can’t find a product over the counter that you feel is working well for you, then there are further treatments available on prescription Your doctor will discuss all available treatments with you.