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Hay Fever (allergic rhinitis) - Learn about hay fever treatment and medicines, symptoms, and causes.

Spring and fall are the main hay fever seasons. Hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, usually causes cold-like symptoms such as a runny nose, congestion, sneezing or sinus pressure. Allergy signs and symptoms start whenever you're exposed to those substances. Unlike a common cold, hay fever isn't caused by a virus but caused by your bodies allergic response to specific substances in your environment.

Despite its name, hay fever is almost never triggered by hay, and it doesn't cause a fever. Hay fever doesn't mean that you're necessarily allergic to hay. It got its name in the early 1800s when British doctors noticed that some rural residents experienced sneezing, itchy eyes and coughing after exposure to cut hay or grass. At the time, doctors didn't realize that the probable culprit was an allergic reaction to pollen or mold. They called the condition a "fever" because it caused nervousness, one of the old English definitions of fever. Most hay fever reactions are triggered by seasonal allergens or by environmental allergens that are present year-round.

Hay fever is caused by pollens of specific seasonal plants and airborne chemicals and dust particles in people who are allergic to these substances. It is characterized by sneezing, runny nose and itching eyes. This seasonal allergic rhinitis is commonly known as 'hay fever', because it is most prevalent during haying season. It is particularly prevalent from late August to the end of November (in the Southern Regions). However it is possible to suffer from hay fever throughout the year.

While hay fever can make you miserable, you will not be alone it's one of the most common allergic conditions. About one in five people in the United States are affected by Hay Fever. You may never be able to completely steer clear of hay fever symptoms but treatment and prevention can help.

Allergic reactions usually occur with an allergy to mold, animal dander, dust and similar inhaled allergens. Particulate matter in polluted air and chemicals such as chlorine and detergents, which can normally be tolerated, can greatly aggravate the condition. The pollens that cause hay fever vary from person to person and from region to region. Usually the tiny, hardly visible pollens of plants pollinated with the wind are the predominant culprits. Pollens of insect-pollinated plants are too large to remain airborne and do not cause problems. Plants most commonly responsible for hay fever are:

Grasses (Family Poaceae): An estimated 90% of hay fever sufferers are allergic to grass pollen. especially ryegrass (Lolium sp.) and timothy (Phleum pratense). Weeds: ragweed (Ambrosia), plantain (Plantago), nettle/parietaria (Urticaceae), mugwort (Artemisia), Fat hen (Chenopodium) and sorrel/dock (Rumex) Trees: such as, pecan, hazel, birch alder, hornbeam (Carpinus), horse chestnut (Aesculus), willow (Salix), poplar (Populus), plane, linden/lime and olive. The time of year at which hay fever symptoms manifest themselves varies greatly depending on the types of pollen to which an allergic reaction is produced. The pollen count, in general, is highest from mid-spring to early summer. As most pollens are produced at fixed periods in the year, a long-term hay fever sufferer may also be able to anticipate when the symptoms are most likely to begin and end, although this may be complicated by an allergy to dust particles.

In addition to individual sensitivity and geographic differences in local plant populations, the amount of pollen in the air can be a factor in whether hay fever symptoms develop. Hot, dry, windy days are more likely to have increased amounts of pollen in the air than cool, damp, rainy days when most pollen is washed to the ground. When an allergen such as pollen or dust is inhaled by a person with a sensitized immune system, it triggers antibody production. These antibodies mostly bind to mast cells, which contain histamine. When the mast cells are stimulated by pollen and dust, histamine (and other chemicals) are released. This causes itching, swelling, and mucus production. Symptoms vary in severity from person to person. Very sensitive individuals can experience hives or other rashes. Some disorders may be associated with allergies. These include eczema and asthma among others. Allergies are common. Heredity and environmental exposures may contribute to a predisposition to allergies.

Common Hay Fever Symptoms Include: 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 can trigger or worsen symptoms. Runny nose, Watery eyes, Congestion, Frequent sneezing, Itchy eyes, nose, roof of mouth or throat, Swollen, blue-colored skin under the eyes (allergic shiners), Cough, Facial pressure and pain. Hay fever can also cause sleeplessness, fatigue and irritability.

Prevention and Self Help Gargle with warm salt water, 1-2 tablespoons of table salt in 8 ounces of warm water, to soothe a mildly sore throat. Taking nonprescription antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) to relieve symptoms of sneezing, runny nose, and itchy throat and eyes. Caution - these medications may make you too drowsy to drive a car or operate machinery safely. {use the caplets as they can be broken into smaller dosages to and increase or decrease the amount as needed to control symptoms}For stuffy nose, a combination of an antihistamine and a decongestant such as pseudoephedrine (Sudafed, Actifed) may work better.

Avoiding exposure to pollen is the best way to decrease symptoms. Wear face masks designed to filter out pollen if you must be outdoors. Remain indoors in the morning and evening when outdoor pollen levels are highest. Keep windows closed and use air conditioning if possible in the house and car. Avoid unnecessary exposure to other environmental irritants such as insect sprays, tobacco smoke, air pollution, and fresh tar or paint. Avoid mowing the grass or doing other yard work, if possible. Avoid fields and large areas of grassland. Do not dry clothes outdoors. Regular hand- and face-washing removes pollen from areas where it is likely to enter the nose. A small amount of petroleum jelly around the eyes and nostrils will stop some pollen from entering the areas that cause a reaction Avoid bicycling or walking - instead use a method of confined transportation such as a car. Wear sunglasses, which reduce the amount of pollen entering the eyes.


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