More than 23 million American adults and children suffer each year from seasonal rhinitis, or hay fever. For some, it is an annoyance. For others, it can feel like a plague that interferes with your ability to work and enjoy everyday activities. It can contribute to sinus infections, asthma and trouble sleeping.
But there are steps you can take to help keep hay fever symptoms at bay.
What causes seasonal allergic rhinitis?
Hay fever is triggered by tiny pollen particles that travel through the air at certain times of the year. The pollen fertilizes plants and tree flowers. It also lands in our mouths, noses and eyes. In people who are sensitive to it, the pollen causes the immune system to release histamine which in turn sets off the unpleasant symptoms. Despite its name, hay fever has nothing to do with hay, and it doesn't cause a fever.
The symptoms of allergic rhinitis include:
- Runny nose
- Itchy, red, watery eyes
Tips for avoiding allergies
Pollen is so widespread that it's hard to avoid. Short of locking yourself in an airtight room, you cannot completely escape the airborne particles. But you may want to try the following:
- Keep your car and house windows closed.
- Use an air conditioner indoors to keep cool and keep pollen out. Avoid using window fans.
- Pay attention to pollen counts.
- Stay indoors when the pollen count is highest, usually in the early morning.
- Use a clothes dryer rather than hanging items outside, where pollen can collect on them.
- Let someone else mow the lawn, or wear a mask if you have to do it yourself. Change your clothes when you go inside.
See your doctor if:
- You are having allergies for the first time
- Your allergies don't let up
- Your symptoms interfere with your daily life
- You don't find relief from over-the-counter drugs (Remember: talk with your child's doctor before giving him or her over-the-counter medications.)
- You have other symptoms, like wheezing, sinus pain or headaches
How your doctor can help
If you can't avoid allergens, talk to your doctor. Other treatments include:
- Medicines. Some effective allergy medicines are available over the counter. Most of these are antihistamines. Others, like topical nasal steroids, require a prescription. Nasal steroids are anti-inflammatories that help block the allergic reaction. Another option is a prescription nasal spray called cromolyn sodium. It can help prevent allergic rhinitis from starting in some people.
- Allergy testing. If you are not sure about the sources of your allergies, allergy testing can pinpoint the culprits. The most common form of testing is the skin prick. Tiny amounts of various allergens are inserted on the surface of the skin to see if swelling or itching occurs.
- Allergy shots. After testing is done, a series of injections, called allergen immunotherapy, can give people with allergies long-lasting relief from their symptoms — even years after the shots are stopped. The periodic shots contain ever-increasing amounts of whatever material you are allergic to. Over time, your body makes protective antibodies. Doctors recommend that the shots be given for three years.
Created on 06/15/2006
Updated on 03/22/2013
- National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Pollen.
- National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Pollen allergy.
- United States Food and Drug Administration. Itching for allergy relief?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. FastStats. Allergies and hay fever.