Hay Fever

Despite its name, hay fever has nothing to do with hay or fever. A nineteenth-century physician called it this because he began to sneeze every time he entered a hay barn. But hay fever is, in fact, a reaction of the upper respiratory tract to anything to which you may be allergic. The medical term for hay fever is “allergic rhinitis”. Symptoms include itchy, watery eyes, runny, itchy nose, congestion, and sneezing. Hay fever is most common in spring and fall (when ragweed is particularly troublesome), but some people have it all year. You can try to avoid things that give you hay fever. Talk to your doctor if that doesn’t help. He or she may prescribe antihistamines, decongestants, and or nasal sprays. Here’s what these do:

  • Antihistamines stop your body from making histamine, a substance your body makes when you are exposed to an allergen. Histamine causes many allergic symptoms. For best results, take the antihistamine 30 minutes before going outside. [Note: Some over-the-counter antihistamines may cause more drowsiness than prescription ones. Also, care should be taken when driving and operating machinery since antihistamines can make you drowsy.]
  • Decongestants shrink the blood vessels in your nose. These do not usually cause drowsiness.
  • Don’t use a nasal spray for more than three days at a time unless directed by your doctor. You may become dependent on it.

It is best to take what your doctor prescribes instead of experimenting with over-the-counter products on your own.

Your doctor may prescribe other things, like Cromolyn sodium or steroids. He or she may suggest allergy shots if your hay fever is very bad. First, you take a skin test. Then you get shots that have a tiny bit of the allergen. The shots help your body get used to the allergen, so it won’t be so sensitive.

Self-Care Tips

Try to stay away from things that give you hay fever:

  • Let someone else do outside chores. Mowing the lawn or raking leaves can make you very sick if you are allergic to pollen from grains, trees, or weeds. It’s a problem if you are allergic to molds, too.
  • Keep windows and doors shut and stay inside when the pollen count or humidity is high. Early morning is sometimes the worst.
  • Put an air conditioner or air cleaner in your house, especially in your bedroom. Be sure to clean the filter often.
  • Try to keep dust, mold, and pollen away from you at home and work:

    • Dust and vacuum your home often. Wear a dust and pollen mask if necessary.
    • Wash rugs.
    • Take carpets and drapes out of your bedroom.
    • Cover your mattress with a plastic cover.
    • Do not use a feather pillow.
    • Stay away from stuffed animals. They collect dust.
    • Don’t have pets, or keep your pets outside the house.
    • Don’t hang sheets and blankets outside to dry. Pollen can get on them.
    • Shower, bathe and wash your hair following heavy exposure to pollen, dust, etc.

  • Avoid tobacco smoke and other air pollutants.

Questions to Ask

Is it so hard for you to breathe that you can’t talk (say 4 or 5 words between breaths)?

Yes: Seek Emergency Care

Do you have severe breathing difficulties or wheezing?

Yes: Seek Emergency Care

Do you have any symptoms of an infection such as:

  • Fever
  • Thick, discolored nasal discharge or sputum
  • Headache or muscle aches

Yes: See Doctor

Do you still have hay fever symptoms when you avoid hay fever triggers?

Yes: Call Doctor

Are hay fever symptoms interfering with your daily activities?

Yes: Call Doctor
Provide Self-Care

Healthy Self: The Guide to Self-Care and Wise Consumerism

© American Institute for Preventive Medicine

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Written by American Institute for Preventive Medicine

Explore Wellness in 2021