What is Hay Fever?

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Hay fever is a common allergic condition that affects around one fifth of the population at least once in their lifetime.

The symptoms of hay fever include:

  • Runny nose
  • Itchy, red eyes
  • Sneezing
  • Itchy throat, nose, ears and mouth
  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Earache
  • Fatigue

Many people who suffer from hay fever find their symptoms improve with age and around 50% say their symptoms get less severe after several years. Symptoms disappear altogether in around 10 to 20% of hay fever sufferers.

Causes

Hay fever is caused by an allergic reaction to pollen, the fine powder-like substance that flowers release as part of reproduction.  Proteins contained inside the pollen irritate the nose, eyes, throat and sinuses, causing them to become swollen and inflamed. People with hay fever can be allergic to various different types of pollen including tree pollen, released during spring; grass pollen, released as the spring turns to summer; or weed pollen, which may be released anytime between early spring though to late autumn.

Treatment

There is currently no cure for hay fever, but some products are available that can help to relieve symptoms. Antihistamines can protect against allergic reactions and corticosteroids can be used to reduce swelling and inflammation. Examples of antihistamines include levocetirizine, azelastine, and desloratadine.

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 effects the substance can have.

Reviewed by , BSc

Further Reading

Last Updated: Nov 17, 2014

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