Allergic rhinitis, commonly known as hay fever is a type of inflammation in the nose occurring when the immune system overreacts to different allergens in the air. As such, it is actually a so-called umbrella term, denoting allergic reaction to a number of different triggers, but with the same array of symptoms, including runny nose, itchy eyes and sneezing. Since it can be caused by different types of pollen as well as animal fur and other common allergens, the term hay fever might be somewhat misleading, since hay and grass aren’t the only known triggers. For some people, hay fever symptoms manifest in certain periods of the year since their immune system responds to one kind of trigger, while for other, allergic rhinitis can manifest rather often.
This condition is rather benign but can be extremely uncomfortable and annoying, especially for people who react to multiple types of allergens. But, the good news is the condition is easily treatable thanks to advances in modern medicine that allow us to successfully and efficiently mitigate the symptoms.
What’s on this page?
What is hay fever?
Hay fever is, in a nutshell, an allergic reaction to dust particles in the air. Most commonly, it is triggered by plant pollen, animal fur, fungus spores or dust mites. For many people, allergic rhinitis is a seasonal condition, since pollen is the most likely culprit and it is present in the air only during the flowering season. Thus, different types of allergens cause hay fever at different times of the year:
|Spring||Birch and hazel|
|Summer||Grass and weeds|
|Fall||Outdoor fungus spores|
There are also allergens that can trigger hay fever throughout the year and these include:
- Dust mites
- Indoor mold
- Balsam of Peru (ingredient of many commonly used products)
Hay fever symptoms
While allergic rhinitis is caused by many different allergens, it is identified by the common cluster of symptoms such as:
- Swollen eyes
- Sneeze attacks
- Running or clogged nose
- Itchy, red and irritated eyes
While usually just inconvenient and annoying, in some cases, the symptoms can become so severe that they have a profound disruptive impact on the daily activities and everyday life. This is often the case for the very widely present allergens such as mold and dust.
Identifying pollen allergy symptoms
Most airborne particles cause the same array of symptoms. In that sense, pollen allergy and, for example, cat allergy can give the same symptoms like sneezing, itchy eyes and in severe cases, difficulties breathing and asphyxiation. So, in order to identify what is the exact cause of your allergic rhinitis, you should pay attention for the time of the year when it occurs. Pollen allergies are always seasonal and thus present only during the flowering of a specific type of plants.
What causes it?
The root cause of the experienced symptoms of hay fever is the overreaction of the immune system to the otherwise harmless particles that exist around us. Once the particle enters the organism through breathing or some other way, the antibodies called IgE antibodies which are located in the mast cells in the mucous membranes (in the eyes and nose, for example) are formed, so the next time you encounter the same allergens, the allergens will already be present in the mast cells to catch them. If the allergen is picked up by two antibodies at the same time, the mast cell will release a cocktail of substance, including histamine, causing the cell to burst. The impact of histamine is subjectively experienced as typical allergy symptoms.
Grass pollen allergy
Grass pollen allergy is a common type of hay fever that usually manifests during the summer. However, despite the name, pollen isn’t the only trigger – any kind of contact with grass can cause trouble, thus prolonging the symptoms long after the flowering season has gone by. Even the juices and particles released when the grass is cut can be enough to cause the usual symptoms.
Another danger is that there are many other types of grasses and plants whose pollen can be structurally similar to the one that is the real trigger, thus causing the same symptoms, even though there would be no allergic reaction to that specific species if the previous reaction hasn’t already occurred. Some of the most common plants that can cause a reaction through structural similarity include:
- Different types of salad
Grass pollen season
Since there are many different grass species present in any given environment, allergy can get really out of hand. Not only will the triggers be present everywhere you go, but the flowering season can be separated only by small amounts of time, causing overlapping and the subsequent “artificial” prolongation of the grass pollen season. Typically, those who experience allergic rhinitis caused by grass pollen can notice the first symptoms around May and they can continue well into September.
The correlation between the average temperature in May and the amount of pollen has also been identified through multiple scientific studies, with the general rule being the warmer the weather, the more pollen there will be, meaning the more likely are you to experience symptoms of hay fever. Hot and dry days contribute to the greater reach of the pollen, while the rainy and cold days will keep it close to the ground.
There are different pollen calendars or so-called allergy calendars available online, so you can always check them out in order to find whether you might be at risk of allergic rhinitis at any given time of the year. If you cannot find online resources for your town, you can always visit the doctor or the local pharmacist who are sure to have some resources on the topic at hand.
Treatment and relief
There are many different things you can do to mitigate the hay fever symptoms. Most obvious thing is, of course, avoiding the particles that cause the allergic reaction. If you’re unsure about specific causes, you can always visit the doctor and take the so-called patch test that will provide you with exact and very specific info on the allergens your immune system reacts to.
People suffering from hay fever usually try to keep doors and windows closed during the flowering seasons, but if dust and house mould are also triggers, this will not bring the desired results. If that is the case, keeping the humidity down and vacuuming and cleaning the house should somewhat reduce the symptoms.
If the precautions and do it yourself advice don’t produce desired results, medical treatment might be required in order to alleviate the symptoms. Luckily, you can easily find many different medicines, both over-the-counter and prescription-only, with some of them acting locally and others having an impact on the organism on the whole. The best solution depends on the exact triggers and type of hay fever. Within the UK, there are several hay fever treatments that achieved a very noticeable success, most notably antihistamine medicine Desloratadine and combination treatment Dymista.
The milder symptoms are often treated with antihistamines which act by simply inhibiting the effect of released histamine. This kind of medicine is available in different forms – tablets, eye drops or nasal spray. One of the most widely used tablet treatments of this kind is Aerius, a very mild remedy, available all over the world.