Hay Fever

If you think about it, hay fever is a strange term…it’s not usually due to hay (although it can be), and there is no fever or elevation of body temperature. The origin of the name is historical. Early in the 19th Century, it was noted that some people living in the British countryside developed sneezing, itchy eyes, and cough when exposed to hay or cut grass. These symptoms of gave them anxiety and irritability – or “fever” in old English – hence hay fever. The medical term for hay fever is allergic rhinitis. Rhinitis means irritation or inflammation of the nose. The problem can be restricted to a certain time of the year – such as springtime – and this is seasonal allergic rhinitis. If the symptoms occur at any time of the year, the illness is often called perennial allergic rhinitis.

SYMPTOMS The nose is itchy, watery, and runny. It often becomes congested and blocked. Sneezing can be a real nuisance and quite debilitating. The face, especially around the nose and eyes, can get red and itchy. The eyes are often angry, itchy, runny and inflamed. Complications of hay fever are common – fatigue, headache, sinus congestion, poor concentration, irritability (especially in children). The allergy can affect the whole body, and many people also suffer from asthma and eczema when their hay fever is bad.

DIAGNOSIS It’s usually easy to diagnose hay fever. However, some people don’t follow the rules when it comes to symptoms, and very occasionally hay fever can be difficult to diagnose from mild infection. In addition, there are diseases that affect the nose or eyes which can cause symptoms similar to hay fever. A visit to the doctor should sort it out. The doctor may order a blood test, or even do a skin test, to find out the cause of the hay fever.

TREATMENT Mild uncomplicated hay fever responds well to simple short-term allergy treatment which your doctor can prescribe. This includes certain nasal sprays or antihistamine tablets. If you need drug treatment for more than 4 weeks, then your doctor may wish to send you to an allergist. Allergy injections (desensitisation or allergy shots) can often be very helpful, but they are not suitable for everyone! There is also an oral vaccine (no needles!) which is excellent. RECENT NEWS!! We use the oral vaccine almost exclusively in our clinic. There are multiple published scientific studies that show it works.  Every attempt should be made to isolate the cause, and avoidance of the trigger may be very helpful.

CAUSES In Australia, seasonal hay fever usually occurs in spring and early summer. The southern one-third of Australia, especially the south-east, has the most severe problems. Melbourne and Canberra are notoriously bad areas for spring allergy. Native plants are rarely a cause. Most spring problems are due to imported, exotic grasses which have spread widely throughout Australia. There are many varieties, but two common types are perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne) and couch grass or Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon). Your allergist will be able to isolate the types of plant pollen that affect you. Certain tree pollens are also important, but flowers are not often implicated. Hay fever that occurs at any time of the year is often triggered by dust, such as vacuum cleaner dust. Dust itself is a real cocktail – it can contain dirt, bacteria, human and animal skin scales, dried mucus, dust mite, dust mite faeces, cockroach dust, pollen, mould spores, food particles and much more! Again, proper testing and assessment will sort out the causes and that will determine the treatment.

SUMMARY This is only a brief overview of hay fever to give you some background information. Hay fever causes a lot of distress as well as lost school days and work days. The cost to the community is high, and when you’ve got hay fever, you feel lousy! Have a word to your doctor.

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