Introduction to Hay Fever
symptoms of hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis or nasal allergies, can range
from being mildly annoying to making you completely miserable. Hay fever occurs
when your body’s immune system treats a normally harmless substance as an
intruder. These substances are called allergens. The most common allergen that
causes hay fever is pollen, which is released in the air by trees in the early
spring, grass in the summer, and weeds in the fall. Hay fever can also be
triggered by allergens in your house, such as pet dander and dust.
you are exposed to an allergen, your body releases chemicals to act as “defense”
against the allergen. One type of chemical that your body releases is called
histamine. The release of histamine results in symptoms very similar to a cold,
such as a runny nose and sneezing.
best way to treat hay fever is to avoid the substance you are allergic to.
However, this isn’t always possible. The most common medications used to treat
hay fever are over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines. However, there are several
other medications available. There are also alternative therapies, lifestyle
recommendations, and long-term solutions that can help control your symptoms.
Is Hay Fever Treated?
is no cure for allergies. Avoiding the allergen altogether is the most
effective way to treat hay fever. Unfortunately, depending on where you live, it's
often not possible to completely avoid pollens in the air. So people often rely
on treatments to minimize their symptoms. Luckily, there are a variety of
medications available both over the counter at drug stores as well as drugs
prescribed by a doctor. These hay fever treatments are the same regardless of
It helps to know
exactly what you are allergic to. That way you can change your day-to-day
activities to avoid the specific allergen as much as possible. Although you
can't completely avoid allergens all the time, you can reduce your symptoms by
making some of the following lifestyle changes.
Tips for avoiding pollens include:
- Close doors and windows during pollen season.
- Use air conditioning.
- If you have a ventilation system, use an allergy-grade filter.
- Avoid going outside in the early morning or on dry, windy days,
when pollen counts are higher.
- Use a high-efficiency particulate air filter (HEPA) filter.
- Don't mow the lawn or rake leaves.
- Wear a mask when doing outdoor activities like gardening.
- Shower or bathe before bedtime to wash off pollen in your hair
Tips for avoiding dust mites include:
- Wash sheets and blankets often, in water heated to at least 130
- Use allergy-proof dust mite covers on mattresses and pillows.
- Use a dehumidifier.
- Use air conditioning.
- Use a vacuum with a small-particle or HEPA filter and vacuum at
least once a week.
- Remove carpeting,
drapes, and upholstered furniture from your house or apartment.
Tips for avoiding cockroaches include:
- Empty the garbage daily.
- Block off any cracks or crevices in the wall where roaches can
- Sweep food crumbs off the floor.
- Store food in sealed containers.
- If have a big problem with cockroaches, hire a professional pest
Tips for avoiding pet dander include:
- Keep pets outside, if possible.
- Wipe down pets when they return inside.
- Bathe pets weekly.
- Keep your pets out of your bedroom.
- Vacuum often.
Tips for avoiding mold include:
- Remove houseplants.
- Clean shower curtains.
- Clean indoor trashcans frequently.
- Use a mix of water and chlorine to kill all visible mold.
- Open doors and windows to increase air movement.
- Use a dehumidifier.
- Don't use carpets in damp rooms such as the bathroom.
When a drug is “over-the-counter”
(OTC), that means you don’t need a prescription from a doctor in order to
purchase the drug. The two major types of OTC allergy medications are
antihistamines and decongestants.
These block the effect
of histamine. This is the chemical that your body makes during an allergic
reaction. They are typically available in different dosages, including ones
that act for four hours to more long-acting formulations that work for 12 or 24
hours. Examples include the following:
antihistamine azelastine (Astelin)
These work by
narrowing the blood vessels and reducing blood flow. This helps clear
congestion and improve breathing through the nose. They typically come as nose
drops and sprays, but also can be oral tablets and liquids. They should typically
be used for no more than three days since you can become dependent on them.
- pseudoephedrine (Sudafed, Afrin nasal spray)
- oxymetazoline (Sinex nasal spray)
One prescription medication designed to relieve the symptoms
of hay fever is montelukast
(Singulair). This is a tablet that blocks the action of immune system chemicals
treatments include nasal steroid sprays, such as:
acting antihistamines such as desloratadine (Clarinex)
are also called allergy shots. Allergy shots are recommended for people who
don't respond to other treatments or people who can't avoid the allergen. They
offer a more long-term solution to hay fever.
treatments involve injections of a diluted allergy extract. The extract helps
the body eventually build tolerance to the allergen and reduce the intensity of
symptoms. The shots are given at various intervals over a time period of three
to five years. Improvement will take several months.
A newer form of
immunotherapy for hay fever is called sublingual immunotherapy allergy tablets.
Sublingual means that you take the allergen under the tongue. They are usually
taken once a day. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma &
Immunology, the sublingual
immunotherapies approved in the United States include:
grass pollen sublingual extract (Grastek) to treat timothy grass allergy
pollen sublingual extract (Oralair) to treat grass pollen allergy
ragweed pollen sublingual extract (Ragwitek) to treat ragweed allergy
Alternative Treatment Options
treatments for allergies do exist, but there isn't a lot of evidence about how
well they actually work or if they have long-term side effects. Examples of
alternative medicines for allergies include:
One example of
alternative medicine is acupuncture, an ancient Chinese technique in which
needles are inserted into key points of the body. Another example is Ayurvedic
medicine (Ayruveda), an old system of medicine originating in India that
involves a system of herbalism, yoga, massage, detoxification, dietary regulation,
and other medications.
Herbal supplements and vitamins may also be used as a form
of alternative medicine. Examples include:
of the butterbur shrub (Petasites
(a type of blue-green algae)
thistle (Silybum marianum)
nettle (Urtica dioica)
- Lactobacillus acidophilus (the bacteria found in yogurt) and other
such as quercetin, catechin, and hesperidin
- Ginkgo biloba, which contains bioflavonoids and is used
as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory
Herbs can cause
side effects. They can also interact with other types of herbs, vitamins, and
both prescription and OTC medications. You should only take herbs under the
supervision of a doctor. More studies are needed to determine if these
alternative therapies have a legitimately beneficial effect on hay fever.
Are the Risks of Allergy Treatments?
with most medications there can be risks and side effects to taking them. Always
check with your doctor before taking OTC medications with other prescription
drugs. Be sure to read the directions on the label to learn how much medicine
to take and how often to take it. Taking more than the recommended amount can
be dangerous. Call your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions.
antihistamines can cause drowsiness. It’s important to not drive or operate
machinery when you first take an antihistamine. Particularly in situations
where mental alertness is important (i.e. driving), avoid taking antihistamines
with antidepressants (at least until you know whether or not they cause an
interaction in you), and you should, of course, avoid using them with any
substances already likely to impair your consciousness, such as muscle
relaxants, sleeping pills, or alcohol.
to the American Academy of Family Physicians, you should talk to your doctor before
using an antihistamine if you have the following underlying medical conditions:
or liver disease
Nasal sprays should not be used
for more than three days. After three days, they can lead to rebound swelling,
which can actually make your symptoms worse. Decongestants that contain the ingredient pseudoephedrine can
raise your blood pressure, so you should speak with your doctor about using
decongestants if you have high blood pressure.