If you or a family member suffers from itchy and watery eyes, as well as a red, congested nose, chances are you have allergic rhinitis, sometimes commonly referred to as “hay fever.” These symptoms often get worse when seasons change. Hay fever or allergic rhinitis is easily treated.
Causes and concerns
Like other allergic reactions, hay fever results when allergens (foreign "invaders") enter your system by way of breathing, swallowing or through your skin. In the case of hay fever, allergens travel through the air and enter your airways by way of your nose, mouth, throat and lungs. The majority of the time, it is difficult to identify the specific allergen causing your symptoms. When allergens come in contact with your airways, white blood cells react by producing antibodies to the offending substances. The result is a hypersensitive reaction to these harmless substances.
One of the most common allergens related to hay fever are pollens. These are small particles, released by flowering plants, which circulate in the air. Tree, grass and ragweed pollens are the most common allergens that cause reactions in humans. Some of these flowering plants pollinate in the springtime, while others pollinate in late summer or early fall. Differences in rainfall and temperatures, from one year to the next, affect pollen amounts in the air within any given season.
Molds are the other common allergens associated with hay fever. They are a kind of fungus that produces spores. Their spores travel through the air to a friendly host. Molds are not seasonal, as they are present year long in the majority of the United States and these allergens grow outdoors and indoors. When found outside, they occur in vegetation, soil and rotting wood. When they are inside, molds and mildew grow in areas where there is poor circulation or moisture (like basements, attics, dust mites, pet dander and moist bathrooms).
Risk factors for hay fever:
- Family history of hay fever
- Repeatedly being exposed to particular allergens
- Having other allergic conditions (such as asthma or eczema)
- Nasal polyps (small growths of the nose)
- Pregnancy may exacerbate hay fever symptoms
- Gender and age
- Exposure to second-hand smoke
Symptoms and signs
Hay fever is the way your immune system responds to foreign airborne bodies (such as pollens and molds) in the outdoor air you breathe. Approximately 15-20 percent of Americans suffer from hay fever to some degree. Found equally in men and women, hay fever is generally seasonal. However, it can last all year when allergens linger in the air. Spring and fall tend to be the two main hay fever seasons.
Common symptoms and signs of hay fever include:
- Frequent sneezing
- Runny nose with a clear discharge
- Stuffy nose
- Postnasal drip
- Sensation that your ears are plugged
- Watery, red eyes
- Itchy nose, eyes, ear canals, nose, soft palate and/or skin
- Difficulty sleeping
- Reduced sense of smell and taste
If you or someone you love has these symptoms, you should call and schedule an appointment with one of our allergy specialists. Concerning symptoms and signs include:
- Symptoms do not get better with home treatments
- Persistent fever
- Nasal secretions become thickened, yellow, green and/or bloody
- Sore throat does not get better
- Earache or discharge from the ears
- Reduced quality of life
Solutions and options
After the allergy specialist takes a thorough medical history of your previous allergens, as well as any family history of allergies, he or she may examine some of your nasal secretions under a microscope to ascertain the number of immune cells, known as eosinophils. These dramatically increase during any allergic reaction. Additionally, the doctor may give you a skin patch test, where diluted solutions of different allergens are injected into your skin. If you have an allergic reaction to any allergen, it will appear as a red, raised bump (wheal) on your skin.
Hay fever relief
There are some things you can do at home to relieve your hay fever symptoms. Home remedies for allergies that we recommend include:
- Warm, salt water gargles to relieve sore throat
- Oral non-prescription antihistamines like Zyrtec or Benadryl to relieve symptoms
- Combination oral antihistamine/decongestants (ZyrtecD) to relieve stuffy nose
- Non-prescription nasal sprays
- Non-prescription eye drops to relieve eye symptoms
There are many symptoms and signs of hay fever. If other treatment methods are not effective in improving your hay fever symptoms, allergy shots (immunotherapy) are always an option. If you or a family member has any of these indications, do not hesitate to call our office today. A caring ear, nose and throat specialist can offer a solution to your symptoms.