Hay fever is a common allergy in Scotland.
It is caused by an allergic response to airborne substances, such as pollen - unlike a cold which is caused by a virus. The time of year in which you get hay fever depends on what airborne substance you are allergic to. Despite its name, hay fever does not mean that the person is allergic to hay and has a fever. Hay is hardly ever an allergen, and hay fever does not cause fever.
Although hay fever and allergic rhinitis have the same meaning, mostly people refer to hay fever only when talking about an allergic reaction to pollen or airborne allergens from plants or fungi, and understand allergic rhinitis as an allergy to airborne particles, such as pollen, dust mites or pet dander which affect the nose, and maybe the eyes and sinuses as well.
Symptoms of hay fever may start at different times of year, it depends on what substance the patient is allergic to. If a person is allergic to a common pollen, then when the pollen count is higher his symptoms will be more severe.
Common symptoms include: Sneezing, watery eyes, itchy throat and nose, blocked/runny nose.
People with asthma may find that when hay fever symptoms emerge their wheezing and episodes of breathlessness become more severe. A significant number of people only have asthma symptoms when they have hay fever.There are seasonal hay fever triggers which include pollen and spores that will only cause symptoms during certain months of the year.
The following are some examples of hay fever triggers:
- Tree pollen - these tend to affect people in the spring.
- Grass pollen - these tend to affect people later on in the spring and also in the summer.
- Weed pollen - these are more common during autumn (fall).
- Fungi and mold spores - these are more common when the weather is warm.
Antihistamine sprays or tablets - these are commonly available over the counter. The medication stops the release of the chemical histamine. They usually effectively relieve symptoms of runny nose, itching and sneezing. However, if your nose is blocked they don't work.
Eye Drops - these reduce itching and swelling in the eyes and are usually used alongside other medications. Eye drops containing cromoglycate are commonly used.
Nasal Corticosteroids - These sprays treat the inflamation caused by hay fever, and are a safe and very effective long-term treatment. Examples include fluticasone, fluticasone, mometasone and beclomethasone. Most patients may have to wait about a week before experiencing any significant benefits. Some patients may notice an unpleasant smell or taste, and have nose irritation.
Oral corticosteroids - for very severe hay fever symptoms the doctor may prescribe prednisone in pill form. They should be prescribed only for short-term use, because of their long-term link to cataracts, muscle weakness and osteoporosis.
Desensitization treatment (immunotherapy) - this treatment used to be more common in the UK, but is now very rarely used and is not used at all in the USA, because it can cause some very strong reactions. Increasing amounts of the allergen are introduced into the patient. This treatment is only done in very specialized centers for patients with severe symptoms.
Alternative therapies - some alternative therapies claim to treat hay fever effectively.