Hay fever, contrary to its name, is not a fever caused by hay, but is actually an exaggerated allergic reaction to outdoor or indoor allergens. When the immune system of a person with hay fever is exposed to an allergen, it overreacts by releasing chemicals in the blood. This reaction is what causes the symptoms of hay fever, including runny nose, watery or itchy eyes, nasal congestion, cough, sneezing, and decreased sense of smell and taste. There are two types of hay fever: seasonal and perennial. Seasonal hay fever occurs only during the time of year when plants are pollinating. People with seasonal hay fever are usually allergic to pollen and spores. Perennial hay fever occurs all year long and is usually caused by allergens that are found indoors, including pet dander and mold.
Risk factors for developing hay fever include living or working in an environment that involves exposure to allergens, having other allergies, having asthma, and having a family history of allergies or asthma. To diagnose hay fever, a doctor may need to perform specific tests, including a skin prick test or allergy blood test. A skin prick test looks for signs of an allergic reaction to an allergen on the skin. An allergy blood test measures the body’s immune system response to a specific allergen.
Hay fever cannot be prevented. If you have hay fever, you can reduce your risk for symptoms by avoiding exposure to allergens that cause an allergic reaction, keeping doors closed during pollen season, using air conditioning, avoiding outdoor activity during dry and windy days, bathing pets and keeping your house free of dust and mold. Over-the-counter medications can help prevent or reduce symptoms. For more bothersome or severe symptoms, prescription medications, allergy shots or a nasal rinse may be necessary. If you are diagnosed with hay fever, talk to you doctor to discuss the best treatment plan for you.