What is Allergic Rhinitis? Hay fever Causes, Treatment

Allergic rhinitis, commonly referred to as hay fever, is a common condition known for a range of symptoms like a runny nose (usually a clear watery discharge), episodes of sneezing (seasonal or at certain times of the day like a morning sneeze) and nasal congestion (blocked nose). Other symptoms associated with hay fever may include a skin rash, itchy red eyes and sometimes sore throat.

Allergic rhinitis is often thought to only occur in spring (hay fever) but in person’s with allergies, perennial rhinitis occurs to some degree throughout the year. Nevertheless, allergic rhinitis is most notably known for its seasonal aggravation which is hay fever while perennial rhinitis is often misunderstood to be sinusitis.

Allergic rhinitis differs from sinusitis in that the lining of the nose is usually inflamed due to allergic causes, swells and produces extra mucus. There is usually no infection associated with allergic rhinitis although it may aggravate during certain viral infections like the common cold and seasonal flu.

Causes of Hay Fever

Allergies an immune mediated hypersensitivity, meaning that the immune system reacts to certain triggers (allergens). Usually these allergens are inhaled (airborne) or ingested (foods). In allergic rhinitis, the presence of allergens like pollen, irritates the nasal lining and triggers an immune reaction. This causes inflammation at the affected area and the host of symptoms that we know as hay fever. When this reaction affects the nasal passages, it is known as allergic rhinitis or hay fever, the skin as eczema and the respiratory passages as asthma.

Allergens do not cause hay fever but are the trigger for an allergic reaction. In hay fever, the presence of tree and grass pollen are the usual trigger as well as fungal spores. While these triggers are seasonal, a hay fever sufferer will also react to house dust mite, cockroaches, molds and animal hair (dogs and cats). In children, certain foods, particularly milk and dairy products may aggravate the condition.

Signs and Symptoms of ‘Hay Fever’

  • Itching of the nose, eyes and throat.
  • Bouts of sneezing especially when exposed to allergens or upon waking (morning sneeze)
  • Nasal congestion affecting one or both nostrils
  • Watery eyes and runny nose
  • Nasal tone when speaking
  • Headaches

Treatment of ‘Hay Fever’

Antihistamines are usually prescribed to reduce the symptoms and may be used long term to prevent flare ups. Sympathomimetics and corticosteroids may be required in severe cases.  A saline nasal spray may assist with maintaining the health of the nasal linings and reducing acute aggravations. However the focus of management should revolve around reducing the exposure to the allergen. Desensitization therapy may be considered in hay fever sufferers who are not responding to medication but this process may offer only short term relief.