Hayfever is a term for a set of symptoms that affects the nose. It is not caused by hay or grass but by overreactions of the immune system to substances that are called allergens. The most common symptoms of hay fever are sneezing, runny or stuffy nose and watery eyes. Some people also have a scratchy throat, itchy nose or ears and swollen sinuses. These symptoms are not the same as a cold and they will not clear up by themselves. The medical name for hayfever is allergic rhinitis.
The answer is yes. Hayfever is a type of allergy and it can be caused by any substance that triggers an allergic reaction in the body. Allergies can be triggered by foods, medicines, pollens, dust mites, animal dander and some insect venoms. The resulting reactions can affect the nose, sinuses, eyes, throat and sometimes skin, stomach and intestines. The symptoms of allergies can range from mild to severe and life threatening, such as anaphylaxis.
When a person is exposed to an allergen, the immune system sees it as a harmful invader and responds with a chain reaction that includes the release of chemicals such as histamine. Histamine is a powerful chemical that can cause swelling in the tissues of the face, eyes, throat and other parts of the body. This causes the symptoms of hay fever such as runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, itchy and watery eyes, itchy or scratchy throat and a sore or runny throat.
The types of allergens that trigger hay fever are different depending on the season. Seasonal allergies occur during spring, summer and early fall when trees, grasses and weeds are producing pollen. Other triggers include airborne mold spores and pet dander. Perennial allergens like indoor and outdoor molds and some insect venoms can also cause hay fever.
Symptoms of hay fever can be relieved by avoiding exposure to the triggers, taking antihistamines or steroid nasal sprays. Decongestant nasal sprays can help to clear the nose but should not be used for more than a few days as long-term use can damage the lining of the nose. Some people may benefit from immunotherapy, or allergy shots, which involves exposing the patient to gradually increasing doses of an allergen in order to build tolerance and reduce sensitivity. This should be done under the supervision of a clinical immunologist or allergy specialist.
The doctor will start by asking the patient to describe their symptoms and when they are most prevalent, what over-the-counter or prescription medications they have taken and whether they have had any other treatments for hay fever. The doctor will then do some diagnostic tests such as a skin prick test or blood test to check for allergies to specific allergens. Other tests may be performed to assess the health of the sinuses, such as a CT scan or an ultrasound. Your doctor will also consider your family history of allergies and other factors such as a previous history of recurrent sinus infections, large adenoids or chronic ear or sinus infections.
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