Hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, causes cold-like symptoms such as a runny nose, itchy eyes, congestion, sneezing and sinus pressure. Hay fever is caused by an allergic response to allergens such as pollen, dust mites or pet dander.
Hay fever may interfere with daily activities, therefore treatment for symptoms may be necessary or avoiding triggers can prevent symptoms.
Symptoms of hay fever include:
- Runny nose
- Nasal congestion
- Watery or itchy eyes
- Itchy nose, throat or roof of mouth
- Sinus pressure and facial pain
- Swollen, blue-colored skin under the eyes (allergic shiners)
- Decreased sense of smell or taste
The time of the year can be a factor for symptoms caused by outdoor allergens such as pollen or weeds because they all bloom at different times.
Hay fever can begin at any age but it most commonly develops during childhood or early adulthood. The severity of hay fever reactions can change over time. For most people, hay fever symptoms tend to diminish slowly over a long period of time.
In a process called sensitization, the immune system mistakenly identifies a harmless substance as harmful. The immune system then begins producing antibodies to fight the harmless substance.
The next contact or exposure to the substance causes the antibodies to signal the immune system to release certain chemicals into the bloodstream, which leads to the symptoms of hay fever.
Seasonal hay fever triggers:
- Tree pollen (spring season)
- Grass pollen (late spring and summer)
- Ragweed pollen (fall season)
- Spores from fungi and molds
Year-round hay fever triggers:
- Dust mites or cockroaches
- Pet dander
- Spores from indoor and outdoor fungi and molds
Risk factors for hay fever include:
- Having other allergies or asthma
- Having a blood relative (parent or sibling) with allergies or asthma
- Living in an environment with constant exposure to allergens
Complications associated with hay fever include:
- Reduced quality of life
- Poor sleep
- Worsening asthma
- Sinusitis (infection or inflammation of the membrane that lines the sinuses)
- Ear infection (middle ear infection – Otitis media)
Reducing the exposure to allergens can help delay or prevent hay fever. Some allergy medications prior to exposure can also help delay the symptoms of hay fever.