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Hay Fever (Allergic Rhinitis): Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors, Treatments and Prevention

Hay fever is a type of seasonal allergic rhinitis that occurs mainly during spring, early fall and summer season. However, it can occur throughout the year. Hay fever is caused as a result of allergic reactions to both indoor and outdoor allergens such as pollen grains, moulds, grasses, weeds, dust and pet dander (saliva, fur or features of animals). Hay fever is prevalent in around 10-30 per cent of adults and 40 per cent of children. [1]

In many ways, hay fever can interfere with your day-to-day lives. The symptoms are not life-threatening but can be annoying, irritating and may get miserable sometimes. Allergic reactions due to hay fever can be mild or severe, depending on the weather, high in dry and breezy days and low on rainy days. Take a look at the details.

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Causes Of Hay Fever

The main cause of hay fever is the malfunction of an immune system. It is also considered hereditary in some cases. When a person mistakenly inhales allergens such as pollens, dust, pet dander or moulds, their immune system considers it as a foreign or harmful substance and causes allergic reactions.

Next time, when a person comes in contact with these allergens again, the immune system signals antibodies and releases histamine and other chemicals in the bloodstream and mucous membranes, causing inflammatory response such as sneezing or runny nose to block those allergens or to get rid of them.

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Symptoms Of Hay Fever

  • Runny nose [2]
  • Itchy eyes, skin or mouth
  • Sneezing
  • Nasal congestion
  • Fatigue
  • Cough
  • Watery eyes or allergic conjunctivitis
  • Sinus pain
  • Clogged ears
  • Dark circles
  • Sore throat
  • Frequent headache
  • Skin rashes
  • Trouble in smelling

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Risk Factors Of Hay Fever

Hay fever is triggered by many factors such as:

  • Medical conditions like asthma, allergies or eczema. [3]
  • Having allergies in the family.
  • Working in an environment where there is a more exposure to allergens such as dust.
  • Pet dander (such as cat saliva, dog fur or cockroaches)
  • Cigarette smoke [4]
  • Staying in an area where air pollution is higher
  • Hairspray, perfumes or fumes
  • Cold temperature

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Complications Of Hay Fever

Untreated hay fever can sometimes complicate the underlying conditions such as asthma. It may also:

  • reduce the quality of life,
  • cause sinusitis,
  • cause middle ear infection and [5]
  • cause insomnia by keeping the person awake due to frequent sneezing or coughing.
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Diagnosis Of Hay Fever

  • Medical history: In this process, the medical expert asks for the medical history of the patient (such as asthma or nasal polyps), family history of allergies, work environment and availability of any pets in the house. [6]
  • Skin test: To identify the exact cause of allergy.
  • Blood test: To calculate the number of allergy-inducing antibodies in the blood, as a result of immune system response.
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Treatment Of Hay Fever

As many of the allergens are airborne, they cannot be prevented. Therefore, certain methods are applied that can reduce symptoms such as sneezing or nasal congestion. Common treatment methods include:

  • Intranasal corticosteroids: They are mainly available in the form of a spray. They help reduce symptoms like nasal congestion, runny nose or sneezing.
  • Antihistamines: They are available in the form of drops, syrups, sprays or oral tablets. They help treat many hay fever symptoms such as eye itching, sneezing, runny nose, teary eyes, itchy skin and many more. [7]
  • Decongestants: To ease stiffness of the nose or nasal congestion.
  • Immunotherapy: This is recommended mainly to people who don't respond to the above treatment methods.
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How To Prevent Hay Fever

If you are allergic to hay fever allergens, avoiding the triggers is the best way to prevent the condition. Common prevention methods include: [8]

  • Keep doors and windows close in the pollen season or dry or breezy season.
  • Avoid morning activities as pollens are most present during the time.
  • Wash clothes frequently as allergens tend to stick to the clothes sometimes.
  • Wear a mask of you are visiting a garden or lawns.
  • Use a dehumidifier to reduce humidity inside the house.
  • Keep the house clean and spray insecticides to keep away cockroaches or other insects.
  • Keep pets out of the house. It is better not to keep pets if you are allergic to pet dander.
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Common FAQs

1. Can you suddenly get hay fever?

You may suddenly get hay fever only if the condition runs in your family. However, experts are unsure of what actually triggers the immune system. It can occur at any age, but the probability is higher during childhood.

2. How long can hay fever last?

Hay fever lasts until you are exposed to your triggering allergens such as pollens, dust, pet dander or smoke. It may last for 3-4 days or a week.

Story first published: Wednesday, June 17, 2020, 13:30 [IST]
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