Updated 7 December 2020

What is Hay Fever?

Man blowing nose / Hayfever
Hay Fever or otherwise called "Allergic Rhinitis", is a natural allergic response by your immune system when you are exposed to an allergen or allergens within your home or outdoors. Hay Fever may be triggered by allergens such as indoor dust, cereals, peanuts, bread, animal fur, latex, air pollutants, small animals, fungal spores and so on. Not everyone is the same and people react differently when exposed to allergens. While animal fur for example may cause no allergic reaction in some people, it may act as an allergen to others and trigger an immune response. The immune system responds to an exposure to allergens (which it perceives as a threat to your body) by releasing antibodies into your bloodstream and this triggers the production of a natural chemical known as "Histamine" which causes inflammation and swelling to parts of your body, particularly your eyes, nose, sinuses and throat.

Symptoms of Hay Fever

While there are many symptoms of Allergic Rhinitis, the most common signs of an immune response to an allergen in most people include;
  • Sneezing,
  • Nasal congestion,
  • Runny nose,
  • Frequent or infrequent coughing,
  • Red, itchy or watery eyes,
  • Itchy mouth and throat,
  • Fatigue
Hay Fever can aggravate the symptoms of asthma in asthmatic patients and even cause an asthma attack despite the patient keeping their asthma in check and under control.

Causes of Hay Fever

 Allergen exposure is one of the most common and widespread cause of Allergic Rhinitis around the world. Exposure to the allergens that cause Hay Fever can either be in your home or outside. Usually a person experiences the symptoms of Hay Fever immediately after an exposure to the triggering allergen. Most people suffer hayfever symptoms in spring when airborne  grass pollens are at their peak although. This is also known as Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis. Although Hayfever may occur at any time of the year. Some allergens known to cause Allergic Rhinitis include;
  • Animal fur,
  • Cigarette smoke,
  • Pollen,
  • Dust mites,
  • Fungi or mould spores,
  • Perfume,
  • Small animals,
  • Latex,
  • Food such as Bread, Cereal and Peanuts,
  • Air pollutants.
As you are exposed to an allergen, your immune system responds by producing and releasing antibodies into your bloodstream. These antibodies help to protect your body from what your immune system has perceived as a threat. The antibodies then cause the widening of your blood vessels and trigger the production of Histamine, an inflammatory chemical which causes parts of your body (sinuses, nose, mouth, throat, and eyes) to be swollen or inflamed as an immune response to your exposure to the allergen.

Hay Fever Tests and Diagnosis

A visit to your doctor will begin with a physical examination of the symptoms that you have as well as a lot of questions being asked about your family and personal medical history. Your doctor may also carry out a skin prick test or blood test in order to find out the allergen responsible for your Hay Fever symptoms.

Hay Fever Treatment

If you know what allergen triggers your Hayfever symptoms then it is important you do your best to try and avoid or minimize exposure to it. For example you could try to avoid being outdoors on high pollen days, avoid mowing the lawn, shower  after outdoor activities where pollen exposure is high and use recirculated air in the car when pollen counts are high. In the treatment of Hay Fever your doctor may prescribe different over-the-counter medications that will help you in managing the symptoms associated with your Allergic Rhinitis. Some medications that your doctor may prescribe include;
  • Eye drops: With eye drops, the swelling, itching and redness of your eyes will be reduced.
  • Non-sedating antihistamine tablets: These help to halt the production of Histamine in the body. This medication is particularly useful to relieve you of sneezing and itching bit not as effective as intranasal corticosteroid sprays for control of a blocked or runny nose..
  • Nasal Corticosteroid sprays: For dealing with the swelling and inflammation of your sinuses when you have Allergic Rhinitis, your doctor may prescribe Nasal Corticosteroids. Nasal Corticosteroids are normally safe to use and can provide long-term benefits.
  • Decongestant nasal sprays: These may be useful for nasal symptoms but should only be used for several days to avoid damage to the lining of the nose. These sprays should not be used if you are pregnant or have a high blood pressure.
  • Immunotherapy: With immunotherapy, you can gain some long-term benefits. This therapy exposes a person to increasing amounts of an allergen to improve tolerance and reduce symptoms.
 

Recovery from Hay Fever

The symptoms of Allergic Rhinitis usually disappear within a week. Once you have identified the allergen responsible for your Hay Fever, you should try as much as possible to avoid exposure to the allergen. This can be in the form of keeping your home clean at all times if you are allergic to dust mites for example or not having pets in your home, if animal fur triggers your allergy. If you are allergic to pollen for example, you might need to wear a face mask when going outdoors especially if you intend visiting a park or just working on your backyard garden. When you come back home from being outdoors, immediately change your clothing and try to wash both your hands and face or just take a shower.

Complications from Hay Fever

Other than the general discomfort that Hay Fever may cause, complications from Allergic Rhinitis are rare. However,  you should see your doctor if you experience any of the following;
  • When symptoms of your Hay Fever does not disappear after a week,
  • when you experience Allergic Rhinitis throughout the year,
  • if you have severe Hay Fever symptoms,
  • if you have an underlying medical condition such as asthma,
  • when over-the-counter medications are not offering much relief, and when the side effects of the prescribed medication are a cause for concern.