OVERVIEW

The other term for this is HAY FEVER.  It has nothing to do with hay and certainly nothing to do with fever.  It does, however, have to do with allergies, and it does involve your nose, from whence comes the rhinitis part of the term (it means inflammation of the lining or mucosa of the inside of the nose).  So don’t ask me why they call it hay fever – I can’t lie.

The condition causes sniffles, runny nose and itching when you’re exposed to things you are allergic to (allergens), anything from pollen to molds.  Sometimes it can be difficult to escape these allergens, but fortunately medical advances over the years have given us new and improved drugs, and allergy shots, and changes in lifestyle can keep symptoms under rap.

WHAT ARE THE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS?

These include:

•    Congestion or stuffiness
•    Runny nose
•    Frequent sneezing, sometimes many sneezes at a time
•    Watery eyes
•    Cough
•    Itchy eyes, nose, throat, or roof of mouth

It can be hard to tell the difference between a cold and hay fever.  If you’re not sure what’s causing your symptoms, look for these clues:

•    A cold tends to last a week or less, while allergy symptoms can persist throughout much of the year.
•    Fever, body aches, and sore throat are more likely to be caused by a cold.
•    Nasal secretions from a cold tend to be thicker than those from hay fever.  The cold may tend to give you a creamish/yellowish secretion, hay fever a clear one.

Symptoms are mild in many people.  Others may experience them badly enough to disturb sleep and even trigger asthmatic attacks.

WHAT CAUSES THIS THING?

Although no one knows why, some people are more prone to allergies than others.  It is suspected that allergic tendencies are inherited.  If your parents have allergies so may you, except not necessarily to the same things.  Hay fever can come on anytime in life.  Luckily, symptoms often fade with age.

Hay fever sufferers react to one or more specific allergens such as dust mite, mold, pollen from flowers, and pet dander.  When you breathe in the allergen, you immune system reacts to it by releasing substances like histamine, leukotrienes and others.  These work to inflame the lining of your nose, sinuses, eyelids and eyes.  The result: itching, sneezing, runny nose and watery eyes.

If you happen to have lived in places like the U.S. or the U.K., you would know that symptoms may occur at different times of the year in different parts of the country, depending on what allergens occur where and when.

Indoor molds, dust mites and pet dander can trigger year round symptoms.

By the way, speaking about being hereditary, hay fever is one of a group of five conditions, such that if one family member has one, a relative can get that one or one of the other four, which include asthma, migraine, eczema and urticaria (another skin disease).  In other words, mom has asthma, you may get migraine or hay fever or one of the others.

SEEK MEDICAL ADVICE

If the drugs you buy off the shelf at the pharmacy don’t work for occasional symptoms, if symptoms are chronic, or if side- effects from what you buy are giving too many or too- bad side effects.  An allergy specialist is probably the best person to diagnose and treat you, but your ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) specialist or your general practitioner can do just fine most of the time.

WHAT ARE THE TREATMENTS?

Doctor will ask you many questions and examine you thoroughly.  An allergist may recommend skin testing, which helps determine the allergens you’re most sensitive to.  A treatment program specifically designed for you can then be embarked on. Allergy blood tests may also be used.

MEDICATIONS USED INCLUDE:

ANTIHISTAMINES.  Remember I said that your immune system causes a release of histamines that help to cause inflammation? Then it makes sense that one of our main weapons is ANTI – histamines.  Many are well known, such as Benadryl and Piriton, and newer ones like Claritin and Allegra.  The later two don’t cause as much drowsiness as the former two.

They, antihistamines, can control your sneezing.  They’re not as effective to relieve a clogged nose.

DECONGESTANTS.  These come in liquid, tablet and spray forms.  The spray forms you buy off the shelf should not be used for more than 72 hours in a row, because when you discontinue, the congestion returns in a worse way, called rebound congestion.

LEUKOTRIENE MODIFIERS.  Remember leukotrienes? Medications that block these relieve symptoms.  You may have seen Singulair advertised on TV in the mornings.  Taken once a day, they do help.

NASAL SPRAYS.  A nasal spray containing cromolyn sodium relieves inflammatory effects of hay fever.  It has few side effects so children as young as 6 can use it.  The down side is that it is only average in relieving symptoms in most people.

CORTIOSTEROIDS. (The good kind of steroids). These are available as sprays and are needed for more troublesome symptoms.  They are, in fact, the ultimate anti – inflammatory agents.  That’s why they are the most effective treatments.  They include some you may know, such as Beconase, Rhimocort, Flixonase or Flonase, Nasonex and others.  They can take 3 to 10 days to give maximum relief, so begin before you expect to be exposed to allergens.  They help your nose tremendously, but not your itchy eyes.  So then you have to use …………………you guessed it:

EYE DROPS.  These contain antihistamines or decongestants and can relieve itchy eyes.  You can buy them off the shelf.

ALLERGY SHOTS.  If medications don’t relieve hay fever symptoms, allergy shots may help.  The injections contain a small amount of the substance you’re allergic to.  Slowly increasing the dose of the shot over a period of time allows you to loose sensitivity (become desensitized) to your particular allergen.  If this route has to be used, shots are given regularly for a year or two, but some people can stop before this if they get better relatively quickly.

HELP YOURSELF:

By minimizing exposure to known allergens, especially pollen.  Do this by:

•    Keeping windows and doors closed and using air-conditioning at home and in your car during “allergy season.”
•    Staying indoors when pollen is plentiful.
•    Keeping your house especially clean when pollen and molds are prevalent.
•    Avoiding using lawn mowers or raking leaves, which stir up pollen and molds.

To reduce exposure to dust mites:

•    Remove carpeting in your home
•    Repair water or moisture problems in your home.
•    Use dust- proof encasements on mattresses and pillows.

Allergic to pets?

•    Remove the animal from the house if possible.
•    Keep your pet out of the bedroom.

See you next week.