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Hay Fever

What is hay fever?
Hay fever is an allergic reaction of the nose (and sinuses) to pollen in the air.

Symptoms include:

  • a clear nasal discharge
  • an itchy nose with sneezing and sniffing
  • itchy, watery, pink eyes (eye allergies)
  • sometimes, sinus or ear congestion.

Hay fever is the most common allergy. More than 15% of people have it.

What is the cause?
Although pollen is usually the cause of hay fever, similar symptoms can also be caused by pets, farm animals, or something else you are is allergic to. This allergic sensitivity is often inherited.

During late April and May the most common pollen causing hay fever is from trees. In June and July, the pollen is usually from grass. From August until the first frost, the leading cause of hay fever is ragweed pollen.

How long will it last?
This is a chronic condition that will probably come back every year during pollen season, perhaps for a lifetime. Therefore, it is important to learn how to control it.

How can I take care of myself?

  • Oral antihistamine medicine
    The best drug for hay fever is an antihistamine. It will relieve nose and eye symptoms. You need the antihistamine recommended by your health care provider.

    Symptoms clear up faster if antihistamines are given at the first sign of sneezing or sniffing. If you have daily symptoms, the best control is attained if you take antihistamines continuously (several times each day) throughout the pollen season. If you have occasional symptoms, you can take antihistamines on days when symptoms are present or expected.

    The main side effect of older antihistamines such as Benadryl or Chlor-Trimeton is drowsiness. If you become drowsy, continue the drug, but decrease the dosage. If drowsiness continues, switch to long-acting antihistamines such as Zyrtec and Claritin, that can be taken once per day. You can buy them without a prescription.
  • Nasal sprays for prevention
    Nasal sprays must be used when the nose is not dripping. Take an antihistamine to stop the dripping before you use the spray. Your nasal spray is _____________________. Put ____ puff(s) in each nostril _____ times a day every day.

    If antihistamines only give partial relief of symptoms, severe hay fever can usually be controlled by prescription steroid nasal sprays. Allergy shots are usually not needed.
  • Nasal washes
    Use warm water or saline nose drops to wash pollen or other allergic substances out of the nose. Instill 2 or 3 drops in each nostril, followed by blowing the nose. Repeat until open. You can also just splash warm water in the nose and then blow.
  • Pollen removal to decrease symptoms of hay fever
    Pollen tends to collect on the exposed body surfaces and especially in the hair. Shower and wash your hair every night before going to bed. Avoid handling pets that have been outside and are probably covered with pollen.
  • Prevention of hay fever symptoms
    Exposure to pollen can be reduced by not going on drives in the country and by not sitting by an open car window on necessary drives. You should stay away from someone cutting the grass during pollen season. When it is windy or the pollen count is especially high, you should stay indoors. Close the windows that face the prevailing winds. Use an air conditioner rather than an attic or window fan. Fans can pull in pollen.

    If your hay fever is especially bad, consider going to an air-conditioned store or theater for a few hours.
  • Eye allergies associated with hay fever
    If you also have itchy, watery eyes, wash your face and eyelids to remove pollen or other allergic substances. Then apply a cold, wet cloth to the eyelids for 10 minutes. An oral antihistamine will usually bring the eye symptoms under control. If not, put 2 drops of long-acting antihistamine/decongestant eye drops (a nonprescription item) in your eyes every 8 to 12 hours for a few days. Ask your pharmacist to recommend a reliable product.
  • Common mistakes
    Decongestant nose drops or nasal sprays usually do not help hay fever because they are washed out by nasal secretions as soon as they have been put into the nose. Also, if they are used for more than 5 days, they can irritate the nose and make it more congested.

When should I call my health care provider?
Call during office hours if:

  • Your symptoms are not controlled in 2 days with antihistamines.
  • You develop sinus pain or pressure.
  • You have other concerns or questions.