Seasonal Sneezing or Hay Fever
Hay fever is a misnomer, because neither is hay the cause of this problem, nor does it cause fever. "Seasonal allergic rhinitis" is the right expression used to describe this allergic reaction. Rhinitis indicates "irritation of the nose" and allergic sneezing which occurs during a particular season is called "seasonal allergic rhinitis" or hay fever.
Hay fever got its name from early descriptions of sneezing, nasal congestion, and eye irritation while harvesting hay in the fields.
Allergic rhinitis can lead to other diseases such as sinusitis and asthma. Many allergic people have difficulty with day to day activities also.
Causes of hay fever:
Hay fever is predominantly caused by air borne pollens of trees such as cotton, walnut, dandelion.
Some allergens which are present in the house - these include house dust, pet dander, food, wool, and more. Symptoms from these allergens are worse in the winter when the house is mostly closed.
Symptoms of hay fever:
Symptoms of seasonal allergic rhinitis or hay fever include:
- Nasal congestion
- Clear running nose
- Sore throat
- Ear pressure
- Nasal itching
- Watery eyes along with eye itching - the eye symptoms are referred to as "allergic conjunctivitis" (inflammation of the whites of the eyes).
- Post nasal dripping of clear mucus at times causes a cough
- Loss of smell and taste
- Nasal bleeding if the condition is severe.
Diagnosis of hay fever:
The doctor will go through a thorough history of the illness, including whether the symptoms vary according to a particular time of the day or a season, and what are the possible exposures.
- If symptoms always appear as a cycle during the onset of a particular season and disappear regularly, hay fever is almost diagnosed.
- For a more perfect diagnosis, a skin prick test is used, and the reaction is observed.
- Another test is the provocative challenge test, which is done by putting an extract of the suspected allergen on the conjunctiva of the eye or in the nose or lungs.
- A nasal smear may be performed to rule out other conditions causing seasonal rhinitis. In this, a sample of mucus is taken on a swab for examination, and results derived.
What type of a diet is helpful in controlling hay fever?
Treatment for hay fever mostly focus on diet and lifestyleadjustments.
- A balanced and healthy diet should be consumed - high in fibre and whole foods, with large helpings of green vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fruits.
- Plenty of fluid intake is recommended, at least six to eight glasses of water daily. Raw vegetable and fruit juices are also beneficial, particularly beet, cucumber, spinach.
- Meat, dairy products and foods high in saturated fats usually aggravate a hay fever condition, and should be limited in the diet. It is also best to avoid dairy products, wheat, eggs, citrus fruits, chocolate, peanuts, shellfish, food colours and preservatives, especially sulfites. These are common food allergens that worsen hay fever symptoms.
- Avoid coffee, chocolates, alcohol, tobacco, and processed sugar.
- Beneficial supplements for treating hay fever include vitamins A, E, and B complex. Vitamin C is a natural antihistamine and should be consumed in plenty so as to help stabilize the mucous membrane response to allergens.
- Essential fatty acids, contained in fish oil, or flaxseed oil, are also recommended as a daily supplement as they help neutralizing the allergic reactions of hay fever.
- Ginger, if consumed raw two to three times a day is helpful in relieving symptoms.
The goal of hay fever treatment is reduction of symptoms. Avoidance of the allergens is best.
Antihistamines are usually prescribed by doctors. They are most effective when used preventively, before the symptoms appear. Over-the-counter antihistamines are often sufficient to provide relief for hay fever symptoms. People with frequent and recurring symptoms may need stronger antihistamines.
Since antihistamines are easily available over the counter, remember that they all have some side effects, which include drowsiness, heart problems etc.
Decongestants are also helpful in reducing symptoms such as nasal congestion. Nasal sprays and oral decongestants are available as well. Extended use of any decongestant can cause rebound congestion, so always go by medical advice Decongestants may cause increased heart rate, blood pressure.
Corticosteroids may be prescribed to reduce severe symptoms. Corticosteroids are best started before the allergy takes off. They are effective because they act slowly and last longer than other types of medication.
How to prevent hay fever?
The best way to prevent hay fever is to avoid all substances to which one is allergic . But as hay fever is mostly caused by outdoor allergies, it becomes quite a difficult job. Here are a few suggestions which might be of help:
- Keep your doors and windows shut during the pollen season.
- Use an air conditioner to cool your home instead of coolers or fans that bring in outside air.
- Wash bed sheets weekly in hot water.
- Always wash hands before food and bedtime as pollen can collect on skin and hair throughout the day.
- Do not hang clothes outside to dry as they can trap pollens.
- Clean bathroom and other damp areas in home frequently for mould.
- Keep pets out of the bedroom and living room, since they may carry pollen.
- Change the air filters fortnightly in air conditioners for removing dust or if fungal growth.
- Rid your home of indoor plants and other sources of fungi in plants
- Follow good health practices - exercise daily, avoid smoking, avoid air pollutants, eat a balanced diet, and supplement diet with vitamins, especially Vitamin C.