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What Is Hay Fever, Really?

Key Points

  • Hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, is an immune disorder characterized by an allergic response to pollen grains and other substances. There are two types: spring hay fever, which occurs when plants pollinate, and perennial hay fever, which is year-round and can include allergies to indoor allergens like dust mites and animal dander.
  • Hay fever is caused when allergens are inhaled, triggering the body's immune response. Symptoms include itchy eyes, blocked or runny sinuses, sneezing, inflamed nasal passages, and potentially dark circles under the eyes.
  • Hay fever is believed to be an inherited trait, meaning individuals with family members who have hay fever are more likely to develop the condition. People with allergic asthma, allergic rhinitis, or eczema also have a higher chance of developing hay fever.
  • If you suspect you have hay fever, it is recommended to visit a family doctor or an allergist for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. Treatments can include nasal sprays, drops, and over-the-counter medications, as well as specific allergy testing and, in severe cases, surgery to remove nasal polyps or repair a deviated septum.

Have you been diagnosed with hay fever? If so, you may have some questions like: what causes hay fever and what times of the year are symptoms most prominent? If you think you may have hay fever, you might be wondering how to tell.

What Is Hay Fever, Really?

Key Points

  • Hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, is an immune disorder characterized by an allergic response to pollen grains and other substances. There are two types: spring hay fever, which occurs when plants pollinate, and perennial hay fever, which is year-round and can include allergies to indoor allergens like dust mites and animal dander.
  • Hay fever is caused when allergens are inhaled, triggering the body's immune response. Symptoms include itchy eyes, blocked or runny sinuses, sneezing, inflamed nasal passages, and potentially dark circles under the eyes.
  • Hay fever is believed to be an inherited trait, meaning individuals with family members who have hay fever are more likely to develop the condition. People with allergic asthma, allergic rhinitis, or eczema also have a higher chance of developing hay fever.
  • If you suspect you have hay fever, it is recommended to visit a family doctor or an allergist for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. Treatments can include nasal sprays, drops, and over-the-counter medications, as well as specific allergy testing and, in severe cases, surgery to remove nasal polyps or repair a deviated septum.

Have you been diagnosed with hay fever? If so, you may have some questions like: what causes hay fever and what times of the year are symptoms most prominent? If you think you may have hay fever, you might be wondering how to tell.

Defining Hay Fever

According to WebMD, hay fever is "an immune disorder characterized by an allergic response to pollen grains and other substances." Many allergists also call hay fever, allergic rhinitis.

Types of Hay Fever

Doctors agree there are two types of true hay fever. One occurs when plants pollinate in the spring and the other is "perennial" or year round. For example, if you have been diagnosed with spring hay fever, tree and flower pollination will probably affect your allergy which is also known as spring hay fever. These types of sufferers may also be affected when fall allergens are present like fungus spores.

Those diagnosed with perennial or year-round hay fever are allergic to spring and fall allergies but others as well. These include indoor allergens such as dust mites or animal dander. Dust mites can be found throughout the home, especially when we turn on our heat for the first time during cold months which aids in kicking up dust mites. These nasty allergens can be found in pillows, draperies, upholstery and carpeting. Mold in damp and windy months is another cause of perennial allergy symptoms.

Because hay fever can be debilitating, it's best to visit an allergist - or at least an urgent care center - to get your symptoms diagnosed and treated.

What Is the Cause of Hay Fever?

Because hay fever is an immune disorder, those who suffer from it are affected when allergens are inhaled. Once inhaled, the body begins to react, causing histamines and leukotrienes to inflame and battle the allergens.

Symptoms include itchy eyes, blocked or runny sinuses, sneezing and inflamed nasal passages. With hay fever, these symptoms, while horrid, are present to expel allergens from your body. Suffers may also experience dark circles under the eyes, known as "allergic shiners" and for perennial hay fever sufferers, dark circles may be present year round.

Because the body tries to expel allergens, often the sinuses become blocked causing sinusitis which may require antibiotics. Nasal polyps may also occur and these are non-cancerous growths that can lead to nose bleeds, sneezing, and hay fever attacks.

Am I Susceptible to Hay Fever?

Many allergists agree that hay fever is an inherited trait says WebMD. If your parents or siblings have hay fever, you are more likely to develop this condition. People diagnosed with allergic asthma or allergic rhinitis are also more prone to develop hay fever. Even people diagnosed with eczema have a higher chance of developing hay fever.

When Should I Seek Help?

If you fear you may be suffering from hay fever, you can go to a walk-in clinic and speak with a family doctor. They are best equipped to reach a proper diagnosis and then recommend an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor) or ENT to help you control symptoms. Both prescribed medications including nasal sprays, drops, and OTC medications may be recommended. Different medications may be prescribed to find one that works best for your symptoms.

Doctors will also pay close attention to your sinuses and sinus damage from hay fever. These include removing polyps which can lead to chronic sinusitis, administering allergy shots, specific allergy testing, and looking for signs of a deviated septum. When polyps become inflamed causing severe headaches, they may be surgically removed to lessen hay fever symptoms. A deviated septum can also be repaired to fight hay fever symptoms.

Because hay fever is not like other fall or spring allergies, if you think you have hay fever, it's best to have it properly diagnosed by a physician that can set a plan for treatment.

Frequently asked questions

  • What is hay fever?

    Hay fever is an immune disorder characterized by an allergic response to pollen grains and other substances. Many allergists also refer to it as allergic rhinitis.
  • What are the two types of hay fever?

    The two types of hay fever are seasonal, which occurs when plants pollinate in the spring, and perennial, which is year-round. Seasonal hay fever sufferers may also be affected by fall allergens like fungus spores. Perennial hay fever sufferers are allergic to both spring and fall allergens, as well as indoor allergens such as dust mites or animal dander.
  • What causes hay fever?

    Hay fever is caused when allergens are inhaled, triggering an immune response in the body. This leads to the production of histamines and leukotrienes, which cause inflammation and battle the allergens.
  • What are the symptoms of hay fever?

    Symptoms of hay fever include itchy eyes, blocked or runny sinuses, sneezing, and inflamed nasal passages. Sufferers may also experience dark circles under the eyes, known as "allergic shiners". In cases of perennial hay fever, these dark circles may be present year-round.
  • Who is more susceptible to hay fever?

    Hay fever is often an inherited trait, so if your parents or siblings have hay fever, you are more likely to develop this condition. People diagnosed with allergic asthma or allergic rhinitis are also more prone to develop hay fever, as are people diagnosed with eczema.
  • When should I seek medical help for hay fever?

    If you suspect you may be suffering from hay fever, you should seek medical help. You can visit a walk-in clinic and speak with a family doctor, who can then recommend an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor) or ENT to help you control symptoms.
  • What treatments are available for hay fever?

    Treatments for hay fever may include prescribed medications such as nasal sprays and drops, over-the-counter medications, allergy shots, and specific allergy testing. In severe cases, surgical removal of inflamed polyps or repair of a deviated septum may be necessary.
  • How is hay fever different from other allergies?

    Unlike other allergies that may be seasonal, hay fever can be a year-round condition, particularly for those with perennial hay fever. It also tends to be an inherited condition, and its symptoms can be more severe, often requiring medical treatment.

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