By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
There is currently no cure for hay fever, but some products are available that can help to alleviate symptoms. The condition can usually be managed with over-the-counter medications such as antihistamines, but for those with more severe and persistent symptoms, the use of corticosteroids or immunotherapy may be required. The treatment options for hay fever are described in more detail below.
Antihistamines such as loratadine and azelastine counteract the symptoms of hay fever by blocking the action of a chemical called histamine, which is usually released by the body in response to allergens. Histamine triggers an immune reaction that causes allergic symptoms such as red, itchy eyes and a runny nose. Blocking the action f histamine therefore prevents these reactions from occurring. These drugs can be taken as pills or in the form of a nasal spray. Antihistamines can either be used as and when required, as hay fever starts to develop or they can be used as a preventative medicine, on days when a high pollen count has been forecast.
Corticosteroids are used in hay fever for their anti-inflammatory effects. These agents can reduce the inflammation that occurs in the lining of the nose and sinuses when these surfaces come into contact with pollen. This prevents the symptoms of hay fever from developing. Corticosteroids are more effective than antihistamines and are therefore reserved for treating patients who are not responsive to antihistamines. Antihistamines cannot relive a blocked nose, so corticosteroids may also be prescribed for individuals who suffer from a blocked nose as their main symptom. A corticosteroid may also be prescribed instead of an antihistamine if a woman is pregnant or breastfeeding. Corticosteroids are most effective when taken regularly for a couple of weeks before symptoms usually begin.
These agents are useful for relieving the nasal congestion hay fever can cause. Nasal decongestants reduce swelling in the vasculature of the nose, which opens up the nasal passage and makes it easier to breathe.
For persistent and severe hay fever, a physician may advise immunotherapy, which involves the patient being gradually exposed to increasing amounts of pollen to build up their resistance to the allergic responses it triggers.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc
Last Updated: Nov 17, 2014