Hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, is an allergic response to airborne substances that causes cold-like symptoms such as runny nose, itchy eyes, sneezing, congestion, and sinus pressure. It occurs seasonally, though the exact time of year differs depending on which substance you are allergic to.
Hay Fever Symptoms
Hay fever is a bit of a misnomer, as it has nothing to do with hay and does not cause a fever. It’s an immune system response to an allergen that is perceived as a threat, such as pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds; dust mites; mold and fungi spores; and smoke or pollution.
Symptoms of hay fever closely mirror that of the common cold, minus the body aches and fever sometimes associated with cold viruses. Signs include sneezing; watery eyes; itchy nose, throat, and eyes; stuffy or runny nose; sinus pain and pressure; and swollen, bluish skin beneath the eyes known as allergic shiners. Some patients report headaches and a loss of smell and taste. Severe cases of hay fever can interfere with sleep and lead to fatigue and irritability. Hay fever often triggers attacks in asthma sufferers.
Certain risk factors make a person more susceptible to developing hay fever. These include having a family history of hay fever, asthma, other allergies, exposure to secondhand smoke, males, and those born during pollen season all have an increased chance of contracting hay fever at some point.
Treating Allergic Rhinitis
Hay fever is diagnosed through a skin test or blood test. Treatment options vary, depending on the severity of the condition. Medications such as antihistamines, decongestants, oral and nasal corticosteroids, and eye drops often bring relief. Immunotherapy – exposing the body to the offending substance through allergy shots or oral drops in order to build up a tolerance – may be recommended for patients who do not respond positively to drugs.