Hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, is a common problem that causes cold-like symptoms.

Sufferers experience a runny nose, sneezing and sinus pressure, and at certain times of the year, the symptoms can become unbearably uncomfortable. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, between 10 percent and 30 percent of Americans suffer from hay fever, with up to 40 percent of children affected. Understand what causes this common condition and learn about the different treatment options available to sufferers.

Causes. Hay fever is caused by a process called sensitization. According to the Mayo Clinic, this occurs when the immune system mistakes a harmless airborne substance as something much more harmful and then starts to produce antibodies to counter it. Every time you come in contact with the substance thereafter, the antibodies recognize it and trigger the immune system to release chemicals into the bloodstream. These chemicals cause the reaction, which leads to the symptoms of hay fever.

Common triggers. Hay fever is triggered by a number of different substances. Some of these substances only occur seasonally, whereas others are present all year round. Different types of pollen often trigger hay fever, particularly tree pollen in the spring and grass pollen in the summer. Dust mites can trigger hay fever all year round, as can dried skin flakes from household pets such as cats and dogs.

Medications. Hay fever sufferers should try to avoid the substances that they recognize are causing the problem. In many cases, however, this is not possible and alternative treatment options need to be identified. A number of different medications are available to hay fever sufferers, some of which may only be available by prescription. Prescription nasal sprays contain corticosteroids, which prevent and treat nasal inflammation and runny nose. Antihistamines block the production of histamine, preventing a subsequent allergic reaction.

Other treatments. Immunotherapy, or desensitization therapy, involves having regular injections, which include tiny amounts of the allergen. Over time, the body gets used to the allergens, and the need for medication is reduced. This treatment is particularly useful for sufferers who are sensitive to common pollutants such as dust mites. According to the Mayo Clinic, immunotherapy can help prevent the development of asthma in children.


by Randall Stokes
July 2, 2013