Hay fever is the most common type of allergy, affecting more than 400 million people worldwide. And hay fever symptoms are nothing to sneeze at. They can affect your sleep, ability to concentrate and your productivity at work or school.
Hay fever is triggered by airborne allergens such as pollen, pet hair and dust mites. In addition to the environmental factors tied to hay fever symptoms, genetics also seem to play a big role. A recent Danish study uncovered risk genes that are helping researchers understand what causes hay fever, but further study is still needed.
So, let’s take a look at what hay fever is, the symptoms to watch for and some tips to help you feel better.
What Causes Hay Fever?
Hay fever is also called allergic rhinitis. Its symptoms mimic those of a cold, but unlike a common cold, hay fever isn't caused by a virus. It’s caused by an allergic reaction.
If it’s a bright sunny day and you’re dealing with clogged nasal passages, you might want to check the pollen counts before you reach for the cold and flu medicine. Allergy symptoms are the result of your immune system responding to a substance. You become allergic when your body develops antigens against a substance. If you’re repeatedly exposed to the substance, the severity of your reaction may increase.
You can have an allergy to:
- tree pollen released during spring
- grass pollen released during the end of spring and beginning of summer
- weed pollen released late autumn
Hay Fever Symptoms
The severity of symptoms during an allergic reaction can vary widely. Some of the symptoms of an allergic reaction include:
- A runny nose and nasal congestion
- Watery, itchy, red eyes
- Itchy nose
- Itchiness on the roof of your mouth or throat
- Postnasal drip
You may find your symptoms improving as you get older. About 50 percent of people report some improvement in symptoms after several years. Symptoms disappear completely in around 10 to 20 percent of people.
Hay Fever Treatments
There is no cure for hay fever, but there are many ways you can relieve its symptoms. Prescription medications can help, but you can start by trying over-the-counter medication.
Eye drops and nasal steroid sprays offer temporary relief and are typically the first and most effective treatments recommended for hay fever. Nasal sprays reduce swelling with no side effects. They’re also easy to carry and provide relief when you need it.
Antihistamines block histamine, which triggers allergic swelling. Decongestants shrink swollen membranes in your nose.
To fight off potential attacks, you can also try:
- Wearing wrap-around sunglasses to stop pollen getting in your eyes
- Taking a shower and changing your clothes after spending time outside
- Staying inside when the pollen count is high
- Applying petroleum jelly to your nasal openings to trap pollen grains
If your allergies are severe and really affecting your quality of life, your doctor may recommend allergy shots. It’s a more long-term solution, but this only becomes an option after seeking medical advice from your doctor or allergist.
Not treating hay fever symptoms can lead to other problems like painful sinus or ear infections.
If your hay symptoms are getting the best of you and you’re not sure where to turn, talk to your doctor. Or download our patient guide. It contains all of the information you need for your first or your next appointment.