Seasonal allergic rhinitis is more commonly known as hay fever. About 8 percent of Americans experience seasonal allergies. Hay fever occurs when your immune system overreacts to an outdoor allergen, such as pollen. The most common culprits are pollens from wind-pollenated plants, such as trees, grasses, and weeds. The pollens from insect-pollinated plants are too heavy to remain airborne for long, and they’re less likely to trigger an allergic reaction. Seasonal allergies are less common during the winter, but it’s possible to experience allergic rhinitis year-round. Depending on your allergy triggers and where you live, you may experience seasonal allergies in more than one season. You may also react to indoor allergens, such as mold or pet dander.
- The symptoms of allergic rhinitis may feel like those of a cold in the beginning. But in the case of hay fever, symptoms usually appear when a person encounters an allergen, such as pollen or mold.
- Symptoms include itchy eyes, itchy nose, itchy throat, itchy ears, sneezing, irritability, nasal congestion and hoarseness. People may also experience cough, postnasal drip, sinus pressure or headaches, decreased sense of smell, snoring, fatigue and asthma.
- Many of these symptoms are an overreaction by the body attempting to protect the vital and sensitive respiratory system from outside invaders. The antibodies produced by the body succeed in keeping the foreign invaders out, but also cause the symptoms characteristic of allergic responses.
- People can develop hay fever at any age, but most people are diagnosed with the disorder in childhood or early adulthood, according to the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms typically become less severe as people age.
- Often, children may first experience food allergies and eczema before developing hay fever. This then worsens over the years, and patients then develop allergies to indoor allergens like dust and animals, or seasonal rhinitis, like ragweed, grass pollen, molds and tree pollen.
Hay fever can also lead to other medical conditions. People who are allergic to weeds are much more likely to get other allergies and develop asthma as they age. But, those who receive immunotherapy, such as allergy shots that help people's bodies get used to allergens, are less likely to develop asthma.
Symptoms of seasonal allergies range from mild to severe. The most common include:
- runny or stuffy nose
- watery and itchy eyes
- itchy sinuses, throat, or ear canals
- postnasal drainage
Less common symptoms include:
- shortness of breath
Your doctor will know if you have hay fever based on your symptoms and a physical exam. If he needs more proof, he’ll use skin and blood tests to see how your body reacts to certain substances. During a skin test the doctor will prick your back or arm with tiny tubes that contain common allergens. If you’re allergic to any of them, your skin will get red, itchy, or swollen at the test site. When an allergen binds to antibodies located in your nose, eyes, and mouth, your body releases chemicals that cause your symptoms.
The best medicine for hay fever is avoidance. Medications are also available to treat symptoms of hay fever. Some people also try alternative treatments. Take steps to avoid seasonal allergens. For example, use an air conditioner with a filter to cool your home in the summer, rather than ceiling fans. Also, make sure to check your local weather network for pollen forecasts, and try to stay indoors when pollen counts are high.