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In Hong Kong, 1 out of every 4 people suffers from hay fever (allergic rhinitis). It is an allergy to pollen, dust mite, mold, animal hair, etc. Hay fever is frequently confused with the common cold because they have similar signs and symptoms, like runny nose, itchy eyes/throat, sneezing, and eye pain. Although hay fever is not curable, there are things you can do to prevent episodes of hay fever. Here is your ultimate guide to avoiding hay fever.
Hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, is a very common type of allergic reaction with symptoms similar to the common cold. There may be sneezing, nasal congestion, runny nose, itchy eyes, itchy throat, eye pain, and sinus pressure. Unlike a cold, which is caused by a virus, hay fever is an allergic response to airborne particles in the environment such as pollen, dust mites, mold, and animal hair, usually when these allergens contact the mouth, nose, eyes and throat.
The common name ‘hay fever’ comes from the fact that allergic rhinitis has flu-like symptoms, and its association with hay arose from an early but incorrect theory that the symptoms were brought out by the smell of freshly cut hay. It wasn’t until 1859 that the scientist Charles Blackley discovered pollen as the cause of these flu-like allergic reactions.
Allergy rhinitis affects both adults and children. In fact, there are two types of allergic rhinitis:
An allergy happens when the immune system misidentifies a harmless substance (an allergen) as a harmful one and releases chemicals to attack it. When you are first exposed to an allergen, your body produces an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE) in your blood, which detects the same allergen if you come into contact with it again. The IgE antibody activates mast cells to release the chemical histamine. Histamine causes inflammation and allergy symptoms such as itching, sneezing, rash, and fluid secretion in the eyes and nose.
At first, allergic reactions may only occur when a person is exposed to a large amount of an allergen. As the disease progresses, even a small amount of the allergen will cause reactions.
Examples of hay fever triggers include:
Hay fever is typically worse from April through August, especially when the weather is warm, humid, and windy. These are the times of the year when the pollen count is at its peak.
Some people may have a higher risk of developing allergic rhinitis. These factors make a person develop allergic rhinitis more easily:
Common hay fever signs and symptoms include:
When the pollen count is high, these symptoms may become more severe.
Severe symptoms of hay fever may include:
If you have asthma, you might also experience the following symptoms of hay fever:
Symptoms can appear at any time of year, depending on the substance to which the patient is allergic.
If left untreated, nasal allergy can exacerbate the symptoms of other diseases or complications, such as:
A doctor will ask about your symptoms, if you’ve noticed any triggers that seem to cause the allergic reaction, and whether it occurs at a particular place or time. They may ask if you recently changed your workplace or home environment, new decorations or furniture, or added a new pet. These questions help you and your doctor identify your allergen.
If the allergen cannot be identified, your doctor may refer you to an allergy specialist to perform allergy tests to identify the exact allergy. The 2 main allergy tests are:
Commercial allergy testing kits are not recommended because they are less reliable. It's also crucial that the test results are interpreted by a trained medical professional who is familiar with your symptoms and medical history.
Hay fever symptoms are usually short-lived and go away on their own without any special treatment. Hay fever resolves more quickly when the allergen is removed. However, some people may experience severe symptoms that make daily tasks difficult and will require treatment to lessen their severity.
If you start to have hay fever symptoms, remove yourself from the allergen (e.g. flowers) or leave the place full of the allergen (e.g. parks or dusty rooms) immediately. You may also wash your face or irrigate your nasal passages with a saltwater solution to remove allergens from your eyes and nose.
If your symptoms do not go away or become very severe, consult your doctor or pharmacist. They may recommend the following medications to help relieve your symptoms.
Some people may benefit from allergen immunotherapy. Long-term immunotherapy desensitizes the immune system and increases tolerance towards allergens that trigger hay fever. In this therapy, small amounts of allergen injections or sublingual drops are given regularly for weeks or months to expose the immune system to the allergen. Immunotherapy usually lasts 3-5 years and can lead to lasting remission of allergy symptoms. It may also help to prevent asthma and new allergies.
Alternatively, acupuncture is also effective and safe for hay fever. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it is important to speak to your doctor or pharmacist before taking any medication to avoid potentially harmful effects on the fetus or baby.
Prevention is better than cure. The best way to prevent hay fever is to avoid contact with allergens. If you don't know what you are allergic to, your doctor may advise an allergy test (skin prick test). After you've identified your allergens, try to avoid contact with them as much as possible. If you know you are going to be exposed to an allergen, take appropriate treatments before the exposure to minimize the symptoms.
To prevent your hay fever symptoms, try the following:
Hay fever (allergic rhinitis) is caused by an allergy to airborne particles such as pollen or dust, whereas the common cold is caused by virus infection. Hay fever is non-contagious, whereas the common cold virus can spread to other people. Hay fever may last for weeks or months, unlike a cold, which usually goes away after 1 to 2 weeks. If you have itchy or watery eyes, or if your symptoms worsen or disappear when you change your environment, it is more likely that you have an allergy.
Hay fever can occur at any time of day; however, symptoms may appear to be worse at night if it is primarily caused by dust mites and mold spores in indoor environments such as your bedroom, where these allergens are contained within curtains, carpets, bedding, and mattresses.
When you have an exacerbation of hay fever, remove yourself from the allergen (e.g. flowers) or leave the place of the allergen (e.g. parks or dusty rooms) immediately. To wash off allergens from your nose, you may irrigate your nasal passages with a saltwater solution. Prevent hay fever by keeping your environment dust-free and well-ventilated. Clean your clothes and furniture often.
Dust mites can cause allergic symptoms.They like to live in warm indoor environments like your bedroom. They usually stay in cloth material like curtains, carpets, stuffed toys, bedding, and mattresses. Get rid of dust mites by washing all beddings in hot water that is at least 54.4°C (130F) to kill dust mites, or in a dryer for at least 15 minutes at a temperature above 54.4°C (130F).
This article was independently written by Healthy Matters and is not sponsored. It is informative only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be relied upon for specific medical advice.
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