Seasonal Allergies and How to Deal With Them
If you are dealing with seasonal allergies, you may have hay fever (allergic rhinitis), which is an allergic response to certain substances in your environment. Hay fever is the most common allergic condition in the United States, affecting about 20 percent of the population.
If you have seasonal hay fever, you may be allergic to pollens released by trees, grasses or weeds. If you have year-round hay fever, you may be sensitive to indoor allergens such as dust mites, cockroaches, mold or pet dander.
Hay fever signs and symptoms can range from mild to severe. If your condition is mild, you may have brief, infrequent episodes of a runny nose and itchy, watery eyes. At the other extreme, you may experience persistent, severe symptoms that last more than four days a week or more than four weeks at a time. Chronic congestion may cause facial pressure and pain, alter your sense of taste and smell, and affect your appearance.
Hay fever symptoms usually develop immediately after you're exposed to specific allergy-causing substances (allergens). Common allergens include pollen, dust mites, cockroaches, mold and pet dander. Sometimes, exposure to irritants such as perfume and tobacco smoke may trigger or worsen symptoms.
Signs and symptoms of hay fever may include:
- Runny nose
- Watery eyes
- Frequent sneezing
- Itchy eyes, nose, roof of mouth or throat
- Postnasal drip
- Facial pressure and pain
Often it can be difficult to distinguish between hay fever and a cold. Keep in mind that typically colds will run their course within five to seven days, whereas hay fever will act up every time you're exposed to your allergy. Also, fevers are not actually a symptom of hay fever — so if you have a low-grade fever, you're probably suffering from a cold.
Causes Of Hay Fever
Heredity plays a key role in determining who gets allergies, including hay fever. If one of your parents has an allergic condition, your risk of developing an allergic condition is 48 percent. If both of your parents are allergic, your risk increases to 70 percent. So you may be more likely to develop hay fever if allergies run in your family.
Although hay fever can begin at any age, you're most likely to develop it in childhood or early adulthood. As you get older, your symptoms may worsen or improve. Symptoms are usually most severe in children and in people in their 30s and 40s.
If you have hay fever, you may react to one or more common inhaled allergens. One of the best-known offenders is ragweed pollen, which makes millions of Americans miserable every fall. No matter what you're allergic to, the underlying cause of your misery is the same. During a process called sensitization, your immune system mistakenly identifies the allergen as an invader and produces an antibody against it called immunoglobulin E, or IgE.
The next time you're exposed to the allergen, your immune system launches an allergic reaction. The IgE antibodies trigger the release of inflammatory chemicals such as histamine, which swells the mucous membranes in your nose, sinuses and eyes, causing a runny nose, watery eyes and sneezing.
While it's impossible to completely avoid allergens, you can reduce your symptoms to allergens by reducing your exposure to them.
To reduce exposure to pollens and molds:
- Close doors and windows during pollen season
- Use air conditioning in house and car
- Stay indoors on sunny, windy days
- Use a dehumidifier to reduce indoor humidity to less than 50 percent
- Use a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter in your bedroom
- Avoid mowing the lawn or raking up leaves, which stirs up pollen and mold
When To Seek Medical Attention
By itself, hay fever can impair your quality of life. Congestion and constant nose blowing can cause discomfort and social embarrassment. The resulting sleeplessness, fatigue and irritability can also affect your performance at work or school.
But hay fever may increase your risk of developing more serious allergic conditions such as asthma, a chronic condition that occurs when the main air passages of your lungs, the bronchial tubes, become inflamed. Hay fever and asthma often occur together. If you have asthma, you may have symptoms such as difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, a tight feeling in the chest, coughing and wheezing.
Prolonged sinus congestion due to hay fever may increase your susceptibility to sinusitis — bacterial infection of the membrane that lines the sinuses. Sinusitis causes pain, tenderness and swelling around your eyes, cheeks, nose or forehead and can be either acute or chronic.
If you experience occasional symptoms of hay fever and haven't found relief from using over-the-counter medications, see your doctor to design a treatment program. Also see your doctor if your symptoms are persistent or if you experience side effects from over-the-counter medications.
After your doctor has identified the substances that trigger your symptoms, he or she will help you develop a plan to avoid these substances. In some cases, avoidance alone can effectively control your hay fever symptoms.