Hay Fever (Allergic Rhinitis) Facts & Information
Synopsis: Information regarding hay fever, (allergic rhinitis) that causes a runny nose, itchy eyes, congestion, sneezing and sinus pressure.1
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Hay fever is an allergic reaction to airborne particles that primarily affects the nose and eyes. Hay fever has been given many different names such as allergic rhinitis, pollinosis or nasal allergies.
Allergic rhinitis is defined as an allergic inflammation of the nasal airways. It occurs when an allergen, such as pollen, dust, or animal dander (particles of shed skin and hair) is inhaled by an individual with a sensitized immune system. When caused by pollens of any plants, it is called pollinosis, and, if specifically caused by grass or tree pollens, it is known as hay fever.
You can contract hay fever due to certain air borne dust particles exposed in the environment. The name hay fever came about because many people who worked with hay in farms years ago often develop respiratory symptoms such as sneezing as well as sinus and nasal congestion afterwards. The three most popular symptoms of an allergic reaction are asthma, eczema and hay fever.
Air borne dust particles such as pollen and dander can cause allergic reactions. Being surrounded by pollen or animal dander can cause these allergies. It can also be due to the substances found in your home like dust mites, cockroaches, fleas, presence of a pet and many more.
Rhinitis is often regarded as a trivial problem but studies have shown that it severely affects people's quality of life. It disturbs sleep, impairs daytime concentration and the ability to carry out tasks, causes people to miss work or school, and has been shown to affect children's school exam results.
Causes of Hay Fever
The body's immune system is designed to fight harmful substances like bacteria and viruses. But with hay fever, the immune system over-responds to substances that are harmless to most people - like pollen, mold, and pet dander - and launches an assault. This attack is called an allergic reaction. In an allergic reaction, substances called histamine (among other chemicals) are released. Histamines contribute to the symptoms of Symptoms include runny nose, itchy eyes, itchy skin.
Seasonal allergic rhinitis is caused by an allergic reaction to pollens and spores (depending on the season and area) as they are carried on the wind. Sources include:
Ragweed - the most common seasonal allergen Grasses Trees Fungus (mold growing on dead leaves) Year-round allergic rhinitis is caused by an allergic reaction to airborne particles from the following:
- Animal dander (skin flakes)
- Dust and household mites
- Molds growing on wall paper
- House plants
- Carpeting and upholstery
Examples of plants commonly responsible for hay fever include:
Grasses (Family Poaceae): especially ryegrass (Lolium sp.) and timothy (Phleum pratense). An estimated 90% of hay fever sufferers are allergic to grass pollen.
Weeds: Ragweed (Ambrosia), plantain (Plantago), nettle/parietaria (Urticaceae), mugwort (Artemisia Vulgaris), Fat hen (Chenopodium), and sorrel/dock (Rumex).
Trees: Pine (Pinus), birch (Betula), alder (Alnus), cedar, hazel (Corylus), hornbeam (Carpinus), horse chestnut (Aesculus), willow (Salix), poplar (Populus), plane (Platanus), linden/lime (Tilia), and olive (Olea). In northern latitudes, birch is considered to be the most common allergenic tree pollen, with an estimated 15 to 20% of hay fever sufferers sensitive to birch pollen grains.
Allergy friendly trees include: Ash (female only), red maple, yellow poplar, dogwood, magnolia, double-flowered cherry, fir, spruce, and flowering plum.
Allergic rhinitis may also be caused by allergy to Balsam of Peru, which is in various fragrances and other products.
Symptoms of Hay Fever
The symptoms for hay fever rank from mild to severe.
If you are suffering from a mild condition you will face problems like runny and itchy nose, watery eyes, itching, and sneezing.
Severe symptoms can last for more than a week. A sense of taste and smell is changed, congestion - causing pain, swelling of eyes which may turn blue due to allergic reaction. This condition causes sleeplessness and fatigue which can badly affect you. Chronic hay fever can cause severe problems like asthma and sinusitis. You may start developing other problems like breathlessness, wheezing and coughing. It may also lead to ear infection due to the fever and pain.
Help for hay fever
Butterbur (Petasites hybridus) - Butterbur has been traditionally used to treat asthma and bronchitis and to reduce mucus. A study of 125 people with hay fever found that an extract of this herb was as effective and less sedating than cetirizine, a commonly prescribed non-sedating antihistamine. The study lasted only 2 weeks, and while it shows promise, it is not known what would be the effect of using butterbur over a longer time period.
Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis) - This herb is considered by some to be a potential treatment for allergic rhinitis because the main active ingredient in it is gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an essential fatty acid that may relieve allergy symptoms.
Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica/Urtica urens) - Stinging nettle has traditionally been used for treating a variety of conditions, including allergic rhinitis. Studies thus far have been favorable, but not overwhelmingly so. More research is needed, but you may want to talk to your doctor about whether it is safe for you to try nettle as a possible alternative treatment.
Immunotherapy (allergy shots) - A proven treatment approach providing long-term relief for many people suffering from allergic rhinitis. Another form of allergy immunotherapy was recently approved in the United States called sublingual immunotherapy (SLIT) allergy tablets. Rather than shots, allergy tablets involve administering the allergens under the tongue generally on a daily basis. (see video link on the right)
- Hay fever symptoms tend to flare up in the spring and fall. Perennial allergic rhinitis symptoms are year-long.
- People born during the high pollen season have a slightly higher risk of developing hay fever than other people.
- Allergy testing is not usually required in simple hay fever because the trigger substances can be easily identified from the history of when and where symptoms occur.
- Many people with allergic rhinitis are prone to allergic conjunctivitis (eye allergy). In addition, allergic rhinitis can make symptoms of asthma worse for people who suffer from both conditions.
- Monitor pollen forecasts daily and stay indoors wherever possible when the count is high (generally on warmer, dry days). Rain washes pollen from the air so counts should be lower on cooler, wet days.
- Infants and babies who are regularly exposed to cigarette smoke during their first years of life are more likely to develop hay fever than babies who aren't.
- Nasal allergy may cause recurrent sinusitis because of the obstruction to the sinus ostia. It may lead to the formation of nasal polypi. Nasal allergy can result in serious otitis media and orthodontic problems. Patients with nasal allergy have four times more risk of developing asthma.
- It is estimated that about 20% of people in Western Europe and North America suffer from some degree of hay fever.
- It is estimated that there are more than 10 million people with hay fever in England.
- At least one out of three people with rhinitis symptoms do not have allergies. Nonallergic rhinitis usually afflicts adults and causes year-round symptoms, especially runny nose and nasal congestion. This condition differs from allergic rhinitis because the immune system is not involved.
- Hay fever affects up to 30% of all people worldwide, including up to 10% of U.S. children under 17 and 7.8% of U.S. adults.
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