When everything is green and blooming in spring and summer, many children and adults have hay fever. Sneezing and itchy eyes can be a problem, especially on dry, warm days. Many people with allergies and asthma also have more asthma attacks than usual.
Hay fever is an allergic reaction of the upper respiratory tract to plant pollen in the air. The symptoms are also called allergic rhinitis (allergic rhinitis).
What are the Symptoms of Hay Fever?
People with allergic runny noses often sneeze with their noses runny or blocked. With severe complaints, many also feel limp and tired. If the eyes water and itch and the eyelids swell, it is called allergic rhinoconjunctivitis. That is an allergic runny nose that is accompanied by conjunctivitis. Itching and asthmatic symptoms such as coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath can also occur.
The complaints only occur during the pollen count. They are usually much stronger than with a house dust allergy, which those affected have to deal with all year round.
What are the Causes and Risk Factors of Hay Fever?
Allergic symptoms arise when the body is overly sensitive to certain, normally harmless substances such as pollen. The immune system responds to such substances (allergens) with a chain reaction: First, it forms antibodies against the allergen, which bind to certain cells. If there is renewed contact, these cells can release chemical substances such as histamine. These substances then trigger allergic reactions such as sneezing or itchy eyes.
The following table shows which plants often cause discomfort and when their pollens fly:
Plant pollen months:
- Hazel – February
- Alder – March
- Birch – April
- Beech – May
- Oak – May
- Ash – mid-April to mid-May
- Grasses – mid-May to mid-August
- Mugwort – mid-July to late August
- Ambrosia – September An increased risk of allergies is sometimes familial. Environmental factors such as air pollution and cigarette smoke can also promote allergies.
It is also believed that high hygiene standards and the rarer occurrence of certain infections in childhood have contributed to the fact that allergies are so common today and as a result, the immune system in many people is less “trained” than it used to be.
What is the Frequency and course of Hay Fever?
In industrialized countries like Germany, around one in four people has an allergic runny nose. Most people have symptoms for the first time before the age of their twenties.
An allergic runny nose can develop into allergic asthma after a few years. For example, sometimes a pollen allergy spreads over time to certain foods (so-called cross allergy).
Severe complaints can lead to secondary diseases such as sinus infections. In addition, an allergic runny nose often makes the mucous membrane of the respiratory tract overly sensitive. This can also lead to discomfort from stimuli such as cigarette smoke and dry heating air.
How is Hay Fever Diagnosed?
In the medical interview, the first question is about the complaints, living conditions, and medical history. With the help of an allergy test (prick test), the doctor can find out whether you are allergic to certain substances. Possible allergens are applied to the forearm at a certain distance from each other. The skin is then lightly scratched at these points so that the substances get into the skin. If the skin becomes red in these areas and swells similar to a large mosquito bite, it is an allergic reaction to the substance applied there.
In addition, a blood test or a so-called provocation test may be necessary. In a provocation test, allergen extracts are applied to the nasal mucosa or the conjunctiva with a spray or in the form of drops. If the mucous membrane swells up, you have to sneeze and your nose starts running, this will indicates an allergic runny nose.
How can Hay Fever be Prevented?
You can hardly protect yourself from pollen except by traveling in areas where there is currently no pollen count. The exposure can be reduced if you keep the windows closed during periods of the heavy pollen count and wash your hair before going to bed. Pollen forecast and current information can be found, for example, in the German Weather
What are the treatment options?
Various medications are available to treat the symptoms and these are;
- Leukotriene receptor antagonists
- Decongestant nasal drops and sprays
There are also non-drug options such as saline nasal sprays and nasal showers. These can alleviate symptoms, but cannot completely replace medication.
One method of becoming less sensitive to allergens in the long term is desensitization (specific immunotherapy). In this treatment, similar to a vaccination, low doses of the allergen are regularly injected under the skin or given under the tongue. Specific immunotherapy takes about three years.
The family doctor’s practice is usually the first point of contact when you are ill or need medical advice if you have a health problem. We provide information on how to find the right practice, how to best prepare for a visit to the doctor, and what is important.
We learned in this article that, Hay Fever is a reaction to plant pollen. In order to have a healthy stress free life, one must know the triggers and avoid them. Avoiding the triggers is the best and in a situation where it can’t be controlled, it is advisable to consult a doctor.