Hay Fever










About Hay Fever



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Hay fever has little do with hay or fevers; it is in fact the term used colloquially to describe allergic rhinitis, a condition that is usually seasonal and plagues upwards of fifty million people in the United States alone. This condition is an uncomfortable allergic illness with symptoms like itchy, watery eyes, running nose, and congestion. Hay fever can affect young children and may abate in the teenage years, but recur in adulthood. Some people will not experience rhinitis as a child, but will develop the symptoms for the first time as adults.

Itchy, watery eyes, congestion and a running nose are not the only symptoms of hay fever. Other signs of the condition include headaches, irritability, impaired sense of taste or smell, sneezing, ear infections, post nasal drip, and even coughing. It is sometimes difficult to ascertain whether you are suffering from a sinus infection, or if you have an allergy-related condition such as rhinitis. Rhinitis sufferers will typically have a watery, clear discharge from the nose, whereas patients with a sinus infection with experience a thick, yellow discharge and possibly a slight fever as well.

Some seasonal triggers of the condition include pollen from grasses, trees, and ragweed. Triggers of non seasonal allergic rhinitis (also known as perennial rhinitis) include dust, mold, or chemicals. Therefore, if you are allergic to any of the non-seasonal triggers, you may experience rhinitis year-round. Both seasonal and perennial hayfever can lead to other health problems like sinusitis or asthma.



Diagnosis



You may believe you have hay fever based on your symptoms, particularly if you know you are more likely to have symptoms in the spring when more times is spent outside in the grass. This is a good indicator but seeing your physician to be tested or to have your symptoms evaluated is always a good idea. As hayfever is an allergic condition, your doctor will likely want to perform skin allergy tests or blood tests to determine if you are actually suffering from the condition or if there are other possible causes.

Skin tests for allergies are not an exact science, as there are both false positives and false negatives from the testing. Still, such testing is used to try and eliminate possible allergen triggers for a particular individual. In a skin test the doctor will use a needle to place miniscule amounts of the suspected trigger onto your arm or back. If your body reacts, generally such reactions take the form of welts or weals on the skin near the testing spot and your doctor may have a serum prepared to treat you for those allergens that test positive. Doctors often test for numerous allergens, as many people have multiple allergies.

Blood tests for hayfever specifically measure for Immunoglobulin E (IgE) antibodies. Blood test results are generally more reliable than skin tests, although there may be a short time lag while waiting for results. Skin tests have much quicker results, but are less reliable.






Treatment



As with many allergic conditions, one of the least invasive treatment methods is avoidance of the allergen. Minimizing or eliminating exposure to grass, pollen, and ragweed can greatly reduce the allergic reactions of the individual sufferer. Of course, it can be very challenging, particularly for younger allergy sufferers, to spend their time indoors away from seasonal allergy triggers. Spring can seem a very long time if your child needs to avoid being outside for the duration of it, and sufferers of multiple seasonal allergies may be faced with incredibly extended periods of time indoors if they have both fall and spring allergy triggers.

After avoidance, the next most likely course of treatment for hay fever will likely be the use of antihistamines. Antihistamines are effective at blocking histamine which is produced by the body in reaction to allergens, so these drugs can alleviate the symptoms of the condition. Common over-the-counter antihistamines include Zyrtec and Claritin. Antihistamines come in both nasal spray or pill form, depending on a person’s choice and tolerance for each. The drugs do sometimes have adverse side effects including sleepiness, dryness of the mouth, and ability to interfere or affect other medications you may be taking. Whether you are taking over the counter antihistamines or prescription ones, it is very important to discuss with your doctor any other medications you may be taking to insure that the two medications will not compromise one another.

Steroid medications for hay fever, also known as corticosteroids, are very effective, but are not as appropriate for long term or regular use as are antihistamines. The side-effects of steroid medications can be more dangerous, and include, dryness or bleeding in the nasal passages, high blood pressure, growth retardation in children, depression, or even muscle weakness. It is also worth noting that while steroid treatments for hay fever are effective, they are not always as quick-acting as treatments like antihistamines, so they may best be used preventatively, not after symptoms have occurred.

A third treatment option for hay fever exists. Immunotherapy is a method of treatment that attempts to eliminate the allergy altogether, leaving the sufferer free to enjoy the remainder of his or her life healthy and allergy free. Immunotherapy, also known as desensitization, is a treatment that involves administering injections containing small doses of the problem allergen on a regular basis. This treatment can teach one’s immune system to accept the allergen as a non-threat. Treatment options for immunotherapy should be discussed with your physician or allergist, as it is not always the best course of treatment for an individual, or at very least may need to be combined with other treatment methods for some period of time while waiting for the full effects of immunotherapy to be felt. Also, it is not without it’s disadvantages. Immunotherapy is a time intensive treatment that may do very little in the short term to provide relief from allergy symptoms. Moreover, it can be expensive, especially if the prescribed course of treatment takes several years.

In addition to avoidance, antihistamines, steroids and immunotherapy, some people also consider alternative or natural remedies to help them treat their hay fever. Vitamin C for example is a known anti-inflammatory that aides in healing and may be of assistance to hayfever sufferers. Quercetin is a natural antihistamine and has proven to be very effective for many rhinitis sufferers. Magnesium has also been studied as a source of assistance for sufferers and taking supplements or eating foods rich in magnesium may well prove beneficial. Another method of treating symptoms of hay fever is a netti pot which allows a person to run a saline solution through their nasal passages to cleanse and moisturize the area.



Conclusion



Hay fever is one of the most common allergic conditions. Millions of people of all ages suffer from it. The severity of this condition can be relatively mild or it can be a debilitating illness that affects everything from choice of recreational activities to work environment. Thankfully, there are many options for treating or reducing the symptoms of hay fever, and these treatments can help provide patients with a relatively symptom-free, productive life.

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