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Autumn Has Arrived!

Don’t Let Hay Fever Spoil It

Allergy image

Known to most people as hay fever, allergic rhinitis is a common medical problem affecting more than 15 percent of adults and children. It takes two different forms:

♦ Seasonal
Symptoms of seasonal allergic rhinitis occur in spring, summer, and early fall. They are usually caused by allergic sensitivity to pollens from trees, grasses, or weeds or to airborne mold spores.

♦ Perennial
People with perennial allergic rhinitis experience symptoms year-round. It is generally caused by sensitivity to house dust mites, animal dander, cockroaches, and mold spores. Underlying or hidden food allergies rarely cause perennial nasal symptoms.

Some people may experience both types of rhinitis, with perennial symptoms getting worse during specific pollen seasons. There are also non-allergic causes for rhinitis.

No hay. No fever. So why hay fever?
Hay fever is a century-old term that has come to describe the symptoms of allergic rhinitis, especially when it occurs in the late summer. However, the symptoms are not caused by hay (ragweed is one of the main culprits) and are not accompanied by fever. So the term allergic rhinitis is more accurate. Similarly, springtime symptoms are sometimes called rose fever, but it’s just coincidental that roses are in full bloom during the grass-pollinating season. Roses and other sweet-smelling, showy flowers rely on bees, not the wind, for pollination. Not much of their pollen gets into the air to cause allergies.

Once allergic rhinitis is diagnosed, treatment options include allergen avoidance, taking medications for symptom relief, and immunotherapy.

Is there any escape?
A common question from people with allergic rhinitis is Can I move someplace where my allergies will go away? Some allergens are tough to escape. Ragweed (which affects 75 percent of people with allergic rhinitis) blankets most of the United States. Less ragweed is found in a band along the West Coast, the southernmost tip of Florida, and northern Maine, but it is still present. Even parts of Alaska and Hawaii have a little ragweed.

Allergists seldom recommend moving to another locale as a cure for allergies. A person may escape one allergy to ragweed, for example, only to develop sensitivity to grasses or other allergens in the new location. Since moving can have a disrupting effect on a family financially and emotionally, relocation should be considered only in an extreme situation and only after consultation with your doctor.

Can allergic rhinitis cause other problems?
Some known complications include ear infections, sinusitis, recurrent sore throats, cough, headache, altered sleep patterns, fatigue, irritability, and poor school performance. Occasionally, children may develop altered facial growth and orthodontic problems.

How is rhinitis treated?
Once allergic rhinitis is diagnosed, treatment options include allergen avoidance, taking medications for symptom relief, and immunotherapy.

♦ Avoidance
A single ragweed plant may release one million pollen grains in just one day. The pollen from ragweed, grasses, and trees is so small that the wind may carry it miles from its source. Mold spores (which grow outdoors in fields and on dead leaves) also are everywhere and may outnumber pollen grains in the air even when the pollen season is at its worst.

While it’s difficult to escape pollen and molds, there are ways to lessen exposure. Keep windows closed and use air conditioning in the summer, if possible. Automobile air conditioners help, too. Don’t hang clothing outdoors to dry. Pollen may cling to towels and sheets. The outdoor air usually is most heavily saturated with pollen and mold between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m., so early morning is a good time to limit outdoor activities. Wear a pollen mask when mowing the lawn, raking leaves, or gardening and take appropriate medication beforehand.

♦ Medication
When avoidance measures don’t control symptoms, medication may be the answer. Medications help to reduce nasal congestion, runny nose, sneezing, and itching. They are available in many forms, including tablets, nasal sprays, eye drops, and liquids.

♦ Immunotherapy
Allergen immunotherapy, known as allergy shots, may be recommended for people who don’t respond well to treatment with medications, experience side effects from medications, have allergen exposure that is unavoidable, or desire a more permanent solution to their allergic problem. Immunotherapy can be very effective in controlling allergic symptoms.

There are many hay fever remedies, and each person’s treatment must be individualized based on the frequency, severity, and duration of symptoms and on the degree of allergic sensitivity. It’s important to talk to your doctor about ways to reduce your fall allergy symptoms.


Source: American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology,

This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, September/October 2012.