Hay fever

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What is it

Hay fever is a misnomer: it’s not usually caused by hay and does not produce a fever. Rather, it is an allergic reaction that occurs in your eyes, nose, and throat. The proper name is allergic rhinitis, and it’s thought that 32 million people in the United States and Canada people of all ages are affected by it. According to the American Academy of Allergy and Immunology (AAAI), Americans lose 3.5 million workdays annually because of this condition.

Seasonal hay fever affects people who are sensitive to various pollens and molds. People with perennial hay fever are sensitive to common substances like household dust, pet dander, hair or fur, dog saliva, and feathers, which can trigger attacks at any time of year.


For hay fever caused by grass, tree, and ragweed pollens, symptoms occur seasonally typically from spring to mid-September. Other hay fever allergens are present year-round, in which case symptoms occur anywhere and at anytime. Symptoms of a hay fever are:

  • Stubborn sneezing, a runny nose (usually with a clear discharge), and swollen nasal passages.
  • Red, itchy, watery eyes.
  • Wheezing, Dry tickly throat (or roof of the mouth) and also itchy skin.
  • Headaches also often develop, perhaps due to congested sinuses.

What causes it

Ragweed, grass, and tree pollens are the worst culprits, along with mold spores. Flower pollens are too heavy to be airborne (bees carry them), so they are seldom a cause of hay fever Grass and tree pollens become airborne in spring the first allergy season each year. Ragweed gets going in the late summer and early fall (except on the West Coast, where it is less common), followed by an upsurge of molds and fungi that have in decomposing leaves. Many molds are present year-round, indoors and out. Some allergies are triggered by animal dander (actually a protein in the animal’s saliva, which is transferred to the fur during grooming and then dries and sheds with the dander), feathers, cosmetics, cigarette smoke, and dust mites, as well as other indoor pollutants. Dust mites peak in warm, humid weather.

What if you do nothing

As long as the allergens remain present, and you remain sensitive to them, you can have attacks.

Home remedies

The most effective treatment is to eliminate the cause of your discomfort (see Prevention). If you can’t, antihistamines may help. If your allergies are not severe, try one of the over-the counter antihistamines, which may help control symptoms; a decongestant may also bring relief. The drawback is that most antihistamines cause drowsiness. Several effective non-sedating anti- histamines are available by prescription only. These are less likely to cause drowsiness, but if you want to use them, be sure to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about possible interactions these drugs can have with other medications.

Avoid over-the-counter nose drops and sprays, which may provide temporary relief, but over the long haul cause the nasal passages to swell more than ever. This is known as the rebound effect.


Pinpoint the allergy

The first step in controlling, maybe preventing, Hay fever is to find out what you are allergic to. Maybe you know already, from years of experience, that it’s grass pollen in early spring or ragweed in the fall. If you don’t know, you should see a physician or allergy specialist to help diagnose the allergen that triggers your symptoms. If your problem is feathers, animal dander, or a cosmetic, you’ll probably be able to avoid hay fever entirely.

Stay informed about pollen counts

If it’s pollen that bothers you, you’ll be interested to hear that the AAAI now sponsors a nationwide network that collects and broadcasts more accurate pollen counts. Various collecting stations over the country do pollen and mold counts up to three days a week, which are then faxed to the AAAI, which in turn faxes them to radio stations and newspapers. The counts are given either numerically or described as “absent,” “low,” “moderate,” “high,” and “very high.” According to the AAAI, there’s no accurate way to forecast pollen counts. But if you hear that pollen counts have risen, you can at least carry medication when you leave the house or postpone outdoor activity until things clear up.

Stay indoors on bad days

When pollen counts are high, people with severe allergies should stay indoors if possible, especially between 5 AM and 10 AM, when pollens are most prevalent. You may be surprised to learn that a dog or cat that goes in and out of the house can carry pollen indoors. Use an air conditioner if you have one. Be sure you keep the filters clean or you may end up blowing allergens around.

Check your car’s air conditioner

Just like home air conditioning, your car’s AC system can help reduce your exposure to allergens. But if your car’s air conditioner seems to be making you sneeze, the culprits are probably fungi that produce airborne spores and grow deep within the air-conditioning system. To minimize the problem, keep the car windows open part way for 10 minutes after you turn on the AC. Don’t direct the vents toward your face. If these steps don’t help, have your car treated with a disinfectant registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), available at car dealer service departments, some service stations, and most auto AC shops.

Most air purifiers aren’t helpful

The few controlled studies on air-purifying machines have found that they have little, if any, effect on allergens. Very small air cleaners can’t eliminate pollen and dust. Electrostatic precipitators, which electrically charge airborne particles and use polarized metal plates to pull them out of the air, can adulterate indoor air along with ozone, provoking allergy indications. The best type of filter is the HEPA (high-efficiency particulate arresting) effective but expensive.

Avoid smoke and other irritants

In addition to not smoking, avoid Insect sprays, smoky environments, fresh paint, as well as other house-holds compounds.

Make home “Allergy-proof”

If you’re allergic to dust and dust mites, take steps to combat them. Remove some or all car- pets and soft furnishings. Keep floors and furniture dust-free. Get rid of feather pillows; use synthetic materials instead. Enclose your mattress in a plastic casing. Wash clothing frequently. If you’re allergic to your pet, the best remedy is to find another home for it. If that is out of the question, at least try to keep the pet out of your bedroom.

Get assistance

If molds and fungi set you off, get somebody else to do your yard cleanup in the fall.

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