Hay Fever

hay fever

Hay fever, also known as seasonal allergies or allergic rhinitis, is a type of allergic reaction to allergens. The major trigger allergen groups are:

  • Pollens
    • Tree pollens
    • Grass pollens
    • Weed pollens  
  • Insects
    • Dust mites
    • Cockroaches
    • Lady bugs
  • Animal or pet dander
  • Molds

The most common causes of hay fever in the United States are pollens from wind-pollinated plants such as birch, ragweed, and grasses.

What causes hay fever?

In people with hay fever, when they come in contact with a trigger allergen (such as those listed above) their body’s immune system treats the allergen as an invader and begins an attack. During the attack their immune system releases chemicals such as histamines which produce the allergy symptoms. These symptoms are the body’s attempt at flushing the allergen out of the body.

Who is affected by hay fever?

Anyone can be affected by hay fever, but it usually starts in childhood or as a young adult. Though hay fever can start in childhood it is unusual to have symptoms in a child younger than the age of 2. Therefore if you have a child less than 2 years old with hay fever-like symptoms it is recommended to consult a doctor or allergist. Unfortunately, hay fever is a life-long condition that can progressively worsen but with proper prevention and treatment can get better.

When does hay fever happen?

Hay fever usually happen during the times of year that the trigger allergen is present but some people may experience symptoms year-round. Children are more likely than adults to experience year-round symptoms. (For more information about what pollens and their seasons please click here).

What are the symptoms of hay fever?

The hallmark symptoms of hay fever are:

  • Itchy, water eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy throat
  • Rash or hives
  • Facial swelling, especially around the eyes

Some people also experience headaches, drowsiness, or restlessness with hay fever. It isn’t uncommon for children with hay fever to also have asthma. Though, in severe cases anyone with hay fever can have an asthma attack or anaphylactic reaction.

What about cross-reactions like in oral allergy syndrome?

Some people with hay fever and pollen allergies also experience an itchy mouth after eating raw fruits, vegetables, or nuts. This reaction is called oral allergy syndrome and is often confused with food allergies. Oral allergy syndrome tends to be a milder reaction limited to the mouth unlike food allergies that can range from mild to severe and affect the whole body. Oral allergy syndrome is usually associated with birch pollen allergies but can also affect people with allergies to: tree pollens, grass pollens, weed pollens, and Latex.

  • For a list of the most common cross-reactions between pollens and foods please click here.
  • For more information about oral allergy syndrome please click here.

How is hay fever diagnosed?

Hay fever can sometimes be confused with a common cold due to similar symptoms. A common cold usually only lasts for several days so if your symptoms continue you most likely are experiencing hay fever. Hay fever can be diagnosed by an allergist through the presence of hay fever symptoms, a thorough medical history, and allergy testing. While there are several different types of tests for allergies the most beneficial for hay fever is skin testing.

How is hay fever treated?

There are usually three methods of treating hay fever:

  1. Avoiding or decreasing exposure to the trigger allergen. For example, if you have an allergy to pet dander it may be necessary to get rid of your pet. Still, symptoms may continue up to 3 to 6 months after eliminating and avoiding a trigger allergen.
  2. Taking medications such as:
  3. Allergy shots

Always consult with a doctor before starting any new medication or treatment to make sure it is a safe option for you or your child.

Can you prevent hay fever?

Steps you can take to prevent or decrease hay fever symptoms are:

  • Begin taking allergy medicine several weeks before your trigger pollen season starts (for more information about pollens and their seasons please click here)
  • Stay inside when pollen counts are high
  • Avoid going outside on hot, dry, windy days and in the early morning due to the risk of higher amounts of pollen
  • Keep windows closed in your home or car
  • Take a shower before bed to wash off any pollen on your body
  • Wear a mask when working outdoors
  • Hire someone to do your outdoor work
  • Wash bedding in warm water with detergent and dry in electric dry on the hot setting weekly
  • Do not dry clothes outside
  • Vacuum the house with a special “HEPA” filter to remove allergens
  • Dust your home regularly
  • Clean tiles, sinks, grout, and areas of mold growth at least every 4 weeks with a diluted bleach cleaner or other mold-killer cleaner.
  • Use a dehumidifier or air conditioner to keep your home between 30-50% humidity to prevent mites, insect infestation, and mold growth. A humidity monitor can be used indoors to check humidity levels.
  • Especially place a dehumidifier in dark, damp places such as a crawl space or basement
  • Avoid humidifiers because they can make mites worse
  • Avoid air filters
  • Use pesticides or call a professional to rid of allergenic insects

One method that does not work is moving. While moving does help you avoid the trigger allergen, especially in the case of pollens, you will most likely develop new allergies at your new location.

When do I need to see a doctor?

Always consult an allergist and/or doctor if experiencing hay fever symptoms or have experienced an asthma attack or anaphylactic reaction.



Disclaimer: The information contained in this site is for educational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for a licensed physician. Please see your physician for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition. Click here to read the full disclaimer.
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