Hay fever, also called allergic rhinitis, causes cold-like signs and symptoms such as a runny nose, congestion, sneezing and sinus pressure. But unlike a cold, hay fever isn't caused by a virus. Hay fever is caused by an allergic response to outdoor or indoor allergens, such as pollen, dust mites or pet dander. Hay fever is common — it affects more than 1 in 5 people. Some people have symptoms year-round. For others, hay fever symptoms get worse at certain times of the year, usually in the spring, summer or fall.
Hay fever can make you miserable and affect your performance at work or school, and interfere with leisure activities. But you don't have to put up with annoying symptoms. Learning how to avoid triggers and finding the right treatment can make a big difference.
Hay fever symptoms usually start immediately after you're exposed to a specific allergy-causing substance (allergen) and can include:
Your hay fever symptoms may start or worsen at a particular time of year, triggered by tree pollen, grasses or weeds, which all bloom at different times. If you're sensitive to indoor allergens, such as dust mites, cockroaches, mold or pet dander, you may have year-round symptoms. Many people have allergy symptoms all year long, but their symptoms get worse during certain times of the year.
Although hay fever can begin at any age, you're most likely to develop it during childhood or early adulthood. It's common for the severity of hay fever reactions to change over the years. For most people, hay fever symptoms tend to diminish slowly, often over decades.
Is it hay fever? Or is it a cold?
When to see a doctor
Many people — especially children — get used to hay fever symptoms. But getting the right treatment can reduce irritating symptoms. In some cases, treatment may help prevent more serious allergic conditions such as asthma or eczema.
You may want to see an allergy specialist (allergist) if:
During a process called sensitization, your immune system mistakenly identifies a harmless airborne substance as something harmful. Your immune system then starts producing antibodies to this harmless substance. The next time you come in contact with the substance, these antibodies recognize it and signal your immune system to release chemicals such as histamine into your bloodstream. These immune system chemicals cause a reaction that leads to the irritating signs and symptoms of hay fever.
Seasonal hay fever triggers include:
Year-round hay fever triggers include:
Hay fever doesn't mean you're allergic to hay. Despite its name, hay fever is almost never triggered by hay, and it doesn't cause a fever.
The following factors may increase your risk of developing hay fever:
Problems that may be associated with hay fever include:
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor or a primary care provider. However, in some cases when you call to set up an appointment, you may be referred to an allergist or other specialist.
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready, and what to expect from your doctor:
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions ahead of time will help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For hay fever, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment at any time that you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
What you can do in the meantime
Tests and diagnosis
Your doctor will ask detailed questions about your personal and family medical history, your signs and symptoms, and your usual way of treating them. Your doctor will also perform a physical examination to look for additional clues about the causes of your signs and symptoms. He or she may also recommend one or both of the following tests:
Positive reaction to allergy test
A small area of swelling with surrounding redness is typical of a positive allergy skin test. ...
Treatments and drugs
The best hay fever treatment is to avoid the substances that cause your reaction. However, this isn't always possible, and you may need additional treatments along with strategies to prevent exposure.
If your hay fever isn't too severe, over-the-counter medications may be enough to ease your symptoms. For more bothersome symptoms, you may need to take prescription medications. Many people get the best relief from a combination of allergy medications. It may take trying a few before you figure out what works best for you.
If your child has hay fever, talk with your doctor about the best treatment. Some medications are approved for use in children, while others are approved only for adults. If you want to try an over-the-counter medication for your child, be sure to read the labels carefully.
Medications for hay fever include:
Other treatments for hay fever include:
Lifestyle and home remedies
It's not possible to completely avoid allergens, but you can reduce your symptoms by taking some steps to limit your exposure to them. It helps to know exactly what you're allergic to so that you can take steps to avoid your specific triggers.
Pollen or molds
While there isn't much evidence about how well they work, a number of people try alternative treatments for hay fever. These include:
There's no proven way to avoid getting hay fever in the first place. However, doctors think reducing a child's exposure to allergy-causing substances such as dust mites may help delay or prevent hay fever — but the evidence isn't clear yet.
If you have hay fever, the best thing you can do is to take steps to lessen your exposure to the allergens that cause your symptoms. Take allergy medications before you're exposed to allergens, as directed by your doctor. If you know you're going to be exposed to hay fever triggers, start taking your medication before your symptoms start, if your doctor recommends it.
Last Updated: 2010-04-29
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