What is hay fever?

Hay fever, more properly known as allergic rhinitis, is an irritation of the mucous membranes of the eyes and upper respiratory tract, leading to a variety of unpleasant symptoms. Many people suffer from hay fever, especially during heavy pollen seasons, which is one of the main causes of hay fever. Most people can treat their symptoms with dietary changes and mild medications, but sometimes the attention of a medical professional is needed to address the problem. If hay fever symptoms are severe or continue throughout the year, patients should consider seeing an allergist.

The term "hay fever" is a bit of a misnomer, and is probably related to reports of itching and irritation during hay season. However, these allergic reactions were more likely caused by flowers in the field than the hay itself, and the skin irritation would have been from the sharp ends of the grass clippings. Some people are allergic to specific grasses used for hay, such as rye, but most people develop hay fever in response to pollen, fungus, and dander.

Like other allergies, hay fever begins with exposure to the allergen, and there appears to be a higher incidence of hay fever in the first world than in developing countries. The body's immune system decides that the allergen is a threat and develops antibodies against it. When exposed again, the immune system reacts, creating the miserable symptoms associated with hay fever. These symptoms include a runny nose, watery eyes, skin conditions, congestion, sneezing, and itching.

Treatment for hay fever usually begins with recommendations for a slight change in lifestyle and diet. A high-fiber diet can help mitigate symptoms, as can avoiding areas of heavy pollen and using hypoallergenic products. If these changes don't resolve the problem, a doctor may recommend medications such as anti-inflammatories and decongestants. In extreme cases of hay fever, an allergist may perform skin tests to determine what, exactly, the patient is allergic to.

For people who experience hay fever, avoiding pollen is a great way to prevent it. Many cities list weekly pollen counts to alert people to potentially high pollen levels. Nasal rinses can also help keep your sinuses clear, as can a prescription for hay fever preventative medication that will help reduce symptoms before they start to appear. It is important to get treatment and diagnosis for hay fever as it can develop into asthma if left untreated, which is an unwanted complication.

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