Hay fever is the common term for the condition ‘allergic rhinitis’. It is caused by an allergic response to allergens which can be found both indoors and outdoors. These allergens can include pollen, dust mites, fungal spores, or even animal fur. Allergens are simply proteins or enzymes which can irritate the nose, eyes, throat, and sinuses leading to inflammation and swelling.
What Causes Hay Fever?
Allergic reactions are when your body overreacts to something it perceives as a threat – the allergen. Your body reacts by releasing numerous chemicals which are designed to stop the spread of what it wrongly perceives to be an infection. These chemicals are what cause the uncomfortable symptoms such as watery eyes and runny nose.
Usually, people who have hay fever will experience early symptoms in their childhood or early years, but it can actually be acquired at any age. It is estimated that up to one in five Australians are affected by hay fever at some point in their life, and are more susceptible to the condition if they have a family history of allergies (such as asthma or even eczema). In fact, these conditions share risk and trigger factors which include a genetic predisposition to developing allergic reactions.
Many people can relieve their symptoms up to a certain extent with treatment. Often people look for treatment as hay fever can have a negative impact on their quality of life. People with severe hay fever may suffer from disruption at school or work leading to poor productivity. They can also feel tired or run-down as a result of poor sleep quality and feel socially embarrassed with their physical symptoms.
Treatment Options For Hay Fever
Typically antihistamine tablets or even syrups are considered the most effective as they can calm sneezing, itchiness, or irritated eyes. Antihistamine eye drops are also available which can control watery eyes. This drug works by blocking the action of the chemical histamine, which is released by the body when it thinks it is under attack by an allergen.
Antihistamines cannot control nasal blockages or runny noses. Combination drugs, however, are available which contain both antihistamines and decongestants. These must be used with caution as they can cause unwanted side effects such as headaches and nausea.
Decongestant sprays can be used to unblock and dry the nose; however, it is recommended that they are only used for a few days. Prolonged usage of decongestants can cause problems such as rebound congestion (symptoms worsen when you stop using the spray) or can cause increased blood pressure, difficulty sleeping, or anxiety.
Patients with severe hay fever can opt for allergen-specific immunotherapy. This therapy will attempt to desensitise the allergic reaction by repeatedly exposing the body to allergen extracts until it stops reacting. This therapy is long term and should be administered over a few years. Only medical specialists who are experienced in this form of therapy such as clinical immunologists should carry out the treatment.
Remember it is important to consult with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any medication, even if available over the counter, in order to correctly evaluate the severity of your condition and to find which treatment options would work best for you.