What is Hay Fever? Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Complications

Hay fever or allergic rhinitis is a type of allergic reaction in which a person’s immune system overreacts to airborne substances that are usually harmless. Some people are allergic to pollen, pet dander, mold spores, or dust mites. Dander refers to tiny scales (like dandruff) that form on the skin and shed from the coat or feathers of some animals.

Causes of hay fever

When a person’s immune system recognizes a harmless substance as harmful, it produces Immunoglobulin E (IgE), an antibody that triggers the release of several chemical in the body, including histamine. These chemicals make people sneeze, have itchy eyes, and a runny nose.

Signs & symptoms

A sign is something the patient as well as the doctor, nurse, and other people can observe or detect. A symptom, on the other hand, is only felt, sensed, or detected by the patient. A skin rash is a sign while a headache is a symptom. Doctors can see a skin rash but can only know about a headache if the patient tells them.

Here are the most common have fever signs and symptoms:

  • Sneezing.
  • A runny nose.
  • A stuffy or blocked nose.
  • Itchy eyes, throat, nose. Sometimes, the ears are itchy too.
  • Streaming or watery eyes.
  • The skin under the eyes can become swollen and bluish.
  • A cough, which is caused by mucus dripping down the throat from the back of the nose (postnasal drip).
  • Fatigue.

According to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS):

“Less commonly, you may also experience the loss of your sense of smell (anosmia), facial pain (caused by blocked sinuses), headaches, and earache.

Diagnosis of hay fever

Doctors diagnose hay fever by carrying out a physical examination and looking at the patient’s medical history. They may also order an allergy test.

The doctor asks what the patient’s symptoms are and when and where they occur. For example, indoors, outdoors, at certain times of year, etc. They examine the patient’s nose, eyes, and throat for signs of irritation and inflammation.

Allergy tests can help pinpoint exactly what the patient is allergic to. This is done via blood or skin tests.

Hay Fever - Allergic Rhinitis - image

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Treatment depends on how severe the hay fever is. Here are some examples:

  • OTC antihistamines

These medications block the effects of histamine and reduce the symptoms of itching, runny nose, etc. OTC stands for over the counter. OTC drugs do not need a doctor’s prescription.

  • OTC or prescription decongestants

Decongestants help relieve nasal congestion, i.e., a block or stuffy nose.

  • Nasal corticosteroids

These prescription medications help treat inflammation in the nasal passages.

  • Immunotherapy

Allergy shots over time can help reduce the severity of hay fever symptoms.

Complications of hay fever

Hay fever sufferers have a higher risk of developing asthma, sinusitis, and ear infections. Sleep problems can eventually undermine the person’s overall health.

If your symptoms are severe, you should talk to your doctor, who can determine the best course of treatment.