What Causes Hay Fever?

Hay Fever is a very common allergic reaction affecting up to 1 in 5 people at some point during their lives. It's not certain what causes the immune system to respond to pollen in the way it does to a virus and cause symptoms, however certain factors are known to increase risk, including exposure to tobacco smoke in early childhood and having a family history of Hay Fever or other allergic condition, i.e. asthma.

Symptoms of Hay Fever include sneezing, coughing, red, itchy, watery eyes and itchy noseand throat. Less commonly, facial pain due to blocked sinuses, loss of sense of smell, sweating and headaches may be experienced. Symptoms occur when pollen from plants irritates and inflames the nose, throat and sinuses. Depending on the time of year it could be tree, weed or grass pollen as the cause although most people are allergic to grass. Many people find the symptoms of Hay Fever improve as they get older, with around 10%-20% of people reporting them clearing up completely.

Hay Fever is not deadly or life-threatening however it can have a detrimental effect on a person's quality of life, particularly through the summer months. There are a range of measures that can be taken to ease the symptoms. Precautions like wearing sunglasses to make sure pollen doesn't get into the eyes, washing after going outside during the summer and avoiding going outside when the pollen count is high (above 50) all reduce the contact with pollen and help to control symptoms. Medications that treat Hay Fever include antihistamines which prevent an allergic reaction from happening, by preventing the body from releasing the chemical histamine when it senses it is under attack from an allergen.

Antihistamines come in spray and pill form, and can be taken preventatively or as you require them. The older antihistamines used to cause drowsiness, however this is usually only a rare side-effect in the new ones. Corticosteroids are also available as both sprays and pills, prescribed for their anti-inflammatory effect in people who have a blocked nose as their main complaint, who are pregnant or breastfeeding or do not respond to antihistamines. The spray works best if used a few weeks in advance of symptoms appearing and when used regularly. Corticosteroid pills are best not being taken for more than 10 days as if used for longer they can have unpleasant side effects.

Nasal decongestants and eye drops are also beneficial for combating specific symptoms of Hay Fever. In severe cases, an introduction of the allergen over a long period of time, called immunotherapy may be undertaken.