If you sneeze a lot, if your nose is often runny or stuffy, or if your eyes, mouth or skin often feels itchy, you may have allergic rhinitis.
Allergic rhinitis, like skin rashes and other allergies, develops when the body’s immune system becomes sensitized and overreacts to something in the environment that typically causes no problem in most people.
When you have allergic rhinitis, your immune system identifies a harmless airborne substance as harmful. Your immune system then produces antibodies to this harmless substance. The next time you come in contact with the substance, these antibodies signal your immune system to release chemicals such as histamine into your bloodstream, which cause a reaction that leads to the signs and symptoms of hay fever.
Allergic rhinitis is an allergic reaction to airborne allergens, like seasonal grass or ragweed pollen or year-round allergens like dust and animal dander.
Allergic rhinitis is commonly known as hay fever which affects up to 30% of all people worldwide. But you don’t have to be exposed to hay to have symptoms. And contrary to what the name suggests, you don’t have to have a fever to have hay fever.
Hay fever takes two different forms:
Seasonal: Symptoms of seasonal hay fever can occur in spring, summer and early fall. They are usually caused by allergic sensitivity to airborne mould spores or to pollens from grass, trees and weeds.
Perennial: People with perennial hay fever experience symptoms year-round. It is generally caused by dust mites, pet hair or dander, cockroaches or mould. Underlying or hidden food allergies rarely cause perennial nasal symptoms.
Some people may experience both types of hay fever, with perennial symptoms getting worse during specific pollen seasons. There are also non-allergic causes for hay fever.
Hay Fever Symptoms
Itchy eyes, mouth or skin
Stuffy nose due to blockage or congestion
Severe hay fever symptoms may include:
Loss of smell and taste
Facial pain caused by blocked sinuses
Itchiness spreads from the throat, to the nose and ears
Sometimes hay fever symptoms can lead to:
People with asthma may find that when hay fever symptoms emerge their wheezing and episodes of breathlessness become more severe. A significant number of people only have asthma symptoms when they have hay fever.
Hay Fever Triggers
Outdoor allergens, such as pollens from grass, trees and weeds
Indoor allergens, such as pet hair or dander, dust mites and mould
Irritants, such as cigarette smoke, perfume and diesel exhaust
Hay Fever Management and Treatment
The best way to treat hay fever being an allergy condition, is to identify the allergic trigger and avoid it.
Avoid triggers by making changes to your home and to your behaviour.
Keep windows closed during high pollen periods; use air conditioning in your home and car.
Wear glasses or sunglasses when outdoors to keep pollen out of your eyes.
Use “mite-proof” bedding covers to limit exposure to dust mites and a dehumidifier to control mould (if you smell mildew, you likely have mould).
Wash your hands after petting any animal and have a non-allergic person help with pet grooming, preferably in a well-ventilated area or outside.
Control some symptoms with over-the-counter medication.
Antihistamines (eyedrops, nasal spray and oral medication)
See an allergist for prescription medications, which may be more effective.
Antihistamines (eyedrops, nasal spray and oral medication)
Allergy shots (immunotherapy)
Diagnosing Hay Fever
To find the most effective way to treat allergic rhinitis symptoms, see an allergist.
Your allergist may start by taking a detailed history, looking for clues in your lifestyle that will help pinpoint the cause of your symptoms. You’ll be asked, among other things, about your work and home environments (including whether you have a pet), your eating habits, your family’s medical history and the frequency and severity of your symptoms.
Sometimes allergic rhinitis can be complicated by several medical conditions, such as a deviated septum (curvature of the bone and cartilage that separate the nostrils) or nasal polyps (abnormal growths inside the nose and sinuses). Any of these conditions will be made worse by catching a cold. Nasal symptoms caused by more than one problem can be difficult to treat, often requiring the cooperation of an allergist and another specialist, such as an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist).
Your allergist may recommend a skin test, in which small amounts of suspected allergens are introduced into your skin. Skin testing is the easiest, most sensitive and generally least expensive way of identifying allergens.
Is Hay Fever Contagious?
No. Hay fever is caused by your immune system’s response to allergens breathed into your body. It is not caused by a virus or bacteria and is not contagious.
However, the symptoms of allergic rhinitis (hay fever) can be confused with those of a common cold, which can be spread from person to person.
What are Risk Factors for Hay Fever (Allergic Rhinitis)?
A person is programmed to be allergic by his/her genetic makeup and is destined to be allergic from birth. People of all races are affected, and the condition affects both males and females equally. Symptoms commonly begin in childhood. Having frequent exposure to the particular allergic substance is a risk factor for frequent attacks.
What is the Prognosis of Allergic Rhinitis?
Allergic rhinitis is a chronic condition, meaning that it persists over time. Some people who experience allergic rhinitis as children will notice their symptoms improve as they get older. Others may have symptoms for life. Allergic rhinitis is not associated with severe complications and can be managed effectively with medications and, in some cases, desensitization therapy.
Is it Possible to Prevent Allergic Rhinitis?
Because allergic rhinitis is related to genetic susceptibility, prevention of the condition is not possible. However, it may be possible for some people to prevent attacks by avoiding exposure to the triggering allergic substance.
How to minimise the impact
There is not much you can do to prevent yourself from becoming allergic to pollen or allergens from plants or fungi. However, avoiding situations where your exposure might be high will help reduce the likelihood of an allergic reaction, or perhaps its severity. The following measures may be helpful:
Be aware of the pollen count during your susceptible months. You can get information from the TV, radio, internet or daily newspapers. On humid and windy non-rainy days pollen counts tend to be higher. Pollen counts tend to be higher during the early evening.
Keep windows and doors shut when pollen is high.
Avoid mowing the lawn altogether during your susceptible months.
Choose low pollen days for gardening.
Keep away from grassy areas when pollen counts are high.
Regularly splash your eyes with cool water. It will sooth them and clear them of pollen.
If pollen counts are high and you come indoors, have a shower and change your clothes.
Remember that wrap-around glasses protect your eyes from pollen getting through.
A hat helps prevent pollen from collecting in your hair and then sprinkling down onto your eyes and face.
When driving on a high count day or time of day keep windows closed. There are pollen filters for cars.
Do not have flowers inside your home.
Keep your surfaces, floors, carpets as dust free as possible.
If you use a vacuum cleaner make sure it has a good filter.
Ask smokers not to let their smoke get near you.
If you are a smoker, giving up will help reduce your symptoms.
Pets can bring in pollen from outside. Whenever a pet comes indoors on a high pollen count day, either wash it or smooth its fur down with a damp cloth. Sometimes pets can be a source of allergic rhinitis which makes your pollen allergy worse.
Smear Vaseline around the inside edges of your nostrils - it helps stop pollen from getting through.
If you know when your hay fever season starts, prepare yourself in advance. See your GP and ask him/her to develop a plan for you.