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Overview of Hay Fever: Causes, symptoms, treatments and natural remedies

Dr. BhavikaNov 23, 2022

If you’re one of those who experience sneezing and watering of the eyes every time you enter a dusty room or walk on freshly cut grass, you aren’t alone. In fact, there are about 20 million people across the world who experience the same thing. Hay Fever, or Allergic Rhinitis (as it is known clinically), a common condition, is an allergic response to common environmental agents like dust, pollen, pet dander, etc. The common symptoms of Hay Fever are nasal congestion, sneezing, runny nose, etc. Read ahead for an overview of Hay Fever.

Hay Fever

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What is Hay Fever?

Hay Fever or Allergic Rhinitis is an allergic condition caused by your immune system reacting to certain specific environmental agents coming in contact with the nose through the air. Some common substances producing allergies in the air include dust, pollen, pet hair, mould, etc. This results in your body’s immune system getting activated and releasing a host of chemical substances that produce a reaction called inflammation in an attempt to expel the allergen from the body. 

As a consequence of the reaction, the mucous membrane (a protective outer layer) in the nose, eyes, and throat becomes inflamed and irritated, producing the symptoms of Hay Fever. This condition can be seasonal, aggravated during seasons where plant life around you produces pollen in large amounts and thus triggering allergic responses. It can also be perennial or last through the year, mostly caused by allergens like pet dander or dust.

Who can get Hay Fever?

Allergic Rhinitis can affect all age groups, including children, but the most common age group affected is those between 20 and 40 years of age. 

Here are some of the risk factors that are linked with the development of Hay Fever.

  • Living or working conditions where there is a large exposure to allergens

  • Underlying conditions like asthma, dermatitis/eczema, or other allergies

  • Exposure to cigarette smoke before 1 year of life

What are the symptoms of Hay Fever?

The common presentations of an individual suffering from Hay Fever include the following.

  • Nasal blockage

  • Runny nose with clear secretions

  • Itchiness of nose, eyes, throat

  • Excessive watering of the eyes

  • Sneezing 

  • Mild swelling around the eyes and lids

  • Generalised tiredness

  • Headache, feeling of heaviness

  • Post-nasal drip

  • Ear block

Think of it as a really bad cold but it can happen over and over again and last for a very long time. Sounds exhausting, right? It’s no wonder then, that people with Hay Fever find it difficult to be as productive because of tiredness. Unlike the name, Hay Fever doesn’t usually cause fever and is generally considered a misnomer. 

Is Hay Fever the same as a common cold?

It’s very common to confuse Hay Fever with a cold. However, differentiating them is very important. The common cold is a viral infection that results in a body ache, malaise, congestion, and fever. It’s also common to get secondary bacterial infections that result in a sore throat and thick yellowish nasal discharge. These symptoms generally resolve within one week.

Hay Fever is an allergic condition. It is not associated with fever or body aches. There is no infection and hence, antibiotics are not needed. Symptoms will reduce only when you’re no longer in contact with the allergen.

How is Hay Fever diagnosed?

This condition is mostly diagnosed clinically based on your symptoms. Your doctor may also check for some signs like inflamed mucosa, conjunctival swelling and redness, middle ear congestion, etc. Blood tests may be performed, which can show an increase in a subtype of white blood cells called eosinophils which play a role in mediating allergy responses. 

In order to determine which particular allergens, allergy testing may be performed. This is a skin test or patch test, wherein a very small quantity of different common substances one is exposed to are patched onto different areas of the skin. If that area turns red and itchy, it means you have an allergy.

Antibodies, which are specific chemicals produced by the immune system to fight against foreign substances, can also be measured in blood. An increase in a particular kind of antibody called IgE correlates with an allergic response. This helps in the diagnosis of local Allergic Rhinitis as well.

What is the treatment for Hay Fever?

The key to managing Hay Fever is prevention and symptomatic treatment. Your best bet is to reduce the chances of coming in contact with whatever you are allergic to. Some measures of prevention include the following. 

  • Maintaining a home environment with less dust accumulation

  • Keeping windows and doors closed during seasons with excess pollen in the air

  • Using anti-allergy covers over pillows, mattresses, cushions

  • Avoiding exposure to pets/animals

  • Frequent washing of hands after touching pets/cleaning/ dust

  • Avoid frequently touching your face, eyes, nose

  • Usage of air purifiers and filters 

  • Usage of protective equipment like face masks, and sunglasses when going outside, especially during seasonal exacerbations

The treatment of Hay Fever involves symptomatic relief with home remedies, medications like decongestants and anti-allergy drugs, and immunotherapy. 

With regard to medications, there are various groups of drugs that can be used to manage the symptoms of Hay Fever depending on the severity and frequency of recurrence. Most commonly used oral medications belong to a group of drugs called antihistamines. 

Nasal decongestants used topically are also available, but long-term usage is discouraged as it becomes ineffective. 

In moderate to severe cases, nasal steroid sprays are used with great efficacy to manage the symptoms. They require to be used continuously for several weeks to months for prolonged, sustained effects with good results and minimal adverse effects. 

The practice of nasal irrigation has shown to be very effective in managing the symptoms of Hay Fever. This includes flushing the nasal cavity with salt water, use of nebulisers and saline nasal sprays, etc. It should be done properly under aseptic precautions to avoid the risk of injury and infection. 

A common home remedy for the symptoms of Hay Fever is steam inhalation, which helps with nasal irrigation and decongestion. It helps clear secretions and relieves nasal block, itching, and heaviness. Adding essential oils such as peppermint oil or eucalyptus oil has added benefits.

There are also more advanced treatment options for those with severe allergies. The treatment you need depends on the severity of your condition.

It is important to note that treatment for this condition should be proceeded after consulting with your treating physician. In case you are suffering from features similar to Hay Fever, speak to your doctor to understand the cause of your issue and the best way to manage it. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here’s a list of questions and answers related to Hay Fever.

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Is Hay Fever a common condition?

Hay Fever is a very common condition, especially in people who are prone to allergies.

How to control Hay Fever symptoms?

Although the symptoms are distressing, one of the best ways to control them is by avoiding any contact with allergens.

How to identify potential allergens?

If you develop frequent allergies, keep a diary to note when you get flares. This is an easy way to identify potential allergens. If you continue to experience symptoms even after this it’s best to consult a doctor who can suggest home remedies and medications as needed.

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.

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