What is Hay Fever? Spring brings budding tree leaves, flowers, and fresh grass. It also brings hay fever, or seasonal allergic rhinitis, to thousands of families yearly. But in simple terms, what exactly is hay fever? It is basically an allergy to one or more of the pollens that are spread from spring to mid-summer. Pollens are produced by trees, flowers, and grasses. Earlier in the spring, those of us who are affected by tree pollen will have allergic symptoms. Any of us allergic to flower and grass pollens tend to suffer from late spring to early summer.
A way to gauge the amount of pollen in the air is with the pollen “count.” This is a measurement of pollen grains per cubic meter of air. The pollen count can vary with the weather, with it increasing during humid or windy weather, and decreasing when the rain comes and washes the pollen away. The general threshold for pollen symptoms is 50 or more.
Symptoms of Hay Fever
The allergic reaction to pollen, or hay fever, is a process that starts with the pollen irritating the nose, eyes, mouth, and/or throat. If allergic to pollen, the body produces an antibody, called immunoglobulin E, which attacks the pollen. Histamine, another chemical, is also released, and allergic reaction symptoms occur, including:
- watering and/or itchy eyes
- stuffy and/or runny nose
- scratchy throat or mouth
- itchy nose or ears
- headaches (blocked sinuses)
- increased asthma symptoms (wheezing and breathlessness)
Hay Fever Diagnosis
A diagnosis of pollen allergies is relatively straightforward. Often your doctor can determine that you have hay fever merely by your symptoms and at what time of the year they occur.
Families with year-round allergy symptoms may have to have skin or blood tests to determine exactly what substances they are allergic to. A skin test involves pricking the skin with a small amount of the believed allergen. The immunoglobulin E antibody level is then measured. Blood tests also measure the IgE antibody levels.
Hay Fever Prevention and Treatment
To reduce the symptoms of hay fever, it’s a good idea to avoid the substances that trigger it. So taking precautions to reduce your exposure to pollen can help you stay allergy-free. Here are some tips:
- avoid the outdoors on humid or windy days, when the count tends to be higher (the count is also highest in the early evening)
- keep house and car windows closed during such days and times
- avoid grassy areas or cutting grass in the late spring/early summer
- change clothes that have been exposed to pollen after being outdoors
- avoid fresh flowers
If these tricks seem too rigid, there are treatments for hay fever, including antihistamine sprays or tablets, steroid nasal sprays or drops, eye drops, and immunotherapy/ desensitization treatments. Learn more about these options from your doctor.