Insight into causes, treatment, and prevention of allergies and
Define Hay Fever and Allergies
Hay fever describes the symptoms of runny nose, itchy eyes and throat,
uncontrollable sneezing and sometimes itching of the skin. It is not
caused by hay, and does not produce fever. The correct name for
the condition is seasonal allergic rhinitis.
Many seasonal "colds"
are actually allergic rhinitis and will not respond to antibiotics.
Seasonal allergic rhinitis happens when pollens and/or particles of plant
or animal dander, mold spores, etc., come into contact with the lining of
the nose, eyes, or throat. The body's immune system recognizes their
presence and starts a reaction to prevent their invasion. In most people
this is not a problem. However, in some patients the immune system is
overactive and identifies normally harmless particles as dangerous,
producing an excessive reaction that actually causes inflammation. This is
known as allergy and the substances causing it are allergens. People are
allergic to only certain substances, and the reaction does not usually
appear until after several exposures to that substance.
Hay fever is caused by pollens,
the most significant in the United
States is from ragweed. It begins pollinating in late August and continues
until the first frost.
springtime pollens come from the grasses, i.e. timothy, orchard, red
top, sweet vernal, Bermuda, Johnson, and some bluegrasses.
springtime hay fever is most often caused by pollens of trees such
as elm, maple, birch, poplar, beech, ash, oak, walnut, sycamore,
cypress, hickory, pecan, cottonwood, and alder.
fragrant flowering plants rarely cause allergy because their pollens
are too heavy to be airborne.|
Certain allergens are always present. These include house dust,
household pet danders, foods, wool, various chemicals used around the
house, and more. Symptoms from these are frequently worse in the winter
when the house is closed up. Mold spores cause at least as many
allergy problems as
pollens. Molds are present all year long, and grow outdoors and indoors.
Dead leaves and farm areas are common sources for outdoor molds. Indoor
plants, old books, bathrooms, and damp areas are common sources of indoor
mold growth. Molds are also common in foods, such as cheese and fermented
Can Allergies Be Serious?
Allergic patients show reduced resistance to respiratory infections,
and more severe symptoms when infections occur. Allergies are rarely life
threatening, but often cause lost work days, decreased work efficiency,
poor school performance, and a negative effect on the enjoyment of life.
Considering the millions spent in anti-allergy medications and the cost of
lost work time, allergies cannot be considered a minor problem.
Why See a Doctor?
The ENT specialist (otolaryngologist) will do a complete examination of
your ears, nose, throat, head and neck. Careful evaluation of the sinuses
will enable him to determine if infection or structural abnormality
(deviated septum, polyps) are contributing to your symptoms.
A number of medications are useful Prevention Tips
in the treatment of allergy
including antihistamines, decongestants, cromolyn, and cortisone-type
preparations. The medical management of allergy also includes counseling
in proper environmental control. Based on a detailed history and thorough
examination, your doctor may advise testing to determine the specific
substances to which you are allergic. The methods employed by your
otolaryngologists will indicate the materials to which you are allergic,
and the degree of your sensitivity to them. The only "cure" available for
inhalant allergy is the administration of injections that build up
protective antibodies to specific allergens (pollens, molds, animal
danders, dust, etc.). Your physician will oversee your progress throughout
the course of treatment and care for any other nasal and sinus disorders
that may contribute to your symptoms.
- Wear a pollen mask when mowing grass or house cleaning (most
drugstores sell them).
- Change the air filters monthly in heating and air conditioning
systems, and/or install an air purifier.
- Keep windows and doors closed during heavy pollination seasons.
- Rid the home of indoor plants and other sources of mildew.
- Don't allow dander producing animals (i.e. cats, dogs, etc.) in the
- Change feather pillows, woolen blankets, and woolen clothing to
cotton or synthetic materials.
- Enclose mattress, box springs and pillows in plastic barrier cloth.
- Use antihistamines and decongestants as necessary and as tolerated.
- Sleep with the head of the bed tilted upwards. A brick or two placed
under bedposts at the head of the bed helps relieve nasal congestion.
- Observe general good health practices; exercise daily, stop smoking,
avoid other air pollutants, eat a balanced diet, and supplement diet
with vitamins, especially C.
- Consider a humidifier in the winter as dry, indoor heat aggravates
many allergic people, but beware of possible mold growth in the
- Discuss hay fever and allergy symptoms with your physician when you
experience an allergic reaction.