Allergic Rhinitis (Hay Fever): Symptoms, Causes, and Risk Factors

When a person develops hay fever, the body begins to feel it is under attack by this antigen, the allergen that causes an allergic reaction. It then launches an immune response in order to protect itself.

what is hay fever symptoms
Here are symptoms, causes, and risk factors for Hay fever (allergic rhinitis). PHOTO via @Healthline

Hay fever, or seasonal allergies, is characterized by a runny or stuffy nose and itchy eyes and sneezing which is why most people suffering from this condition seek allergy doctor treatment. Contrary to popular belief, allergies are not limited to just spring or summer.

Hay fever sufferers can be found any time of the year.

Short-term relief for hay fever-related symptoms includes over-the-counter allergy medications and antihistamines that work by blocking histamine in the body which is responsible for a large number of allergic reactions.

If these medications do not relieve your symptoms, you may want to consult with an allergy specialist about long-term options, as it’s possible that your allergies are caused by something other than pollen or pet dander you may have been exposed to during the year.

What Is Hay Fever?

Allergies occur when the body’s immune system overreacts to a particular allergen, such as pollen or certain pet dander, and produce too much of an allergy antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). The body begins to feel that it’s under attack by this antigen, the allergen that causes an allergic reaction.

The release of histamine and other chemicals cause the symptoms a person experiences during an allergic reaction. Allergy symptoms vary from one sufferer to another depending on their specific allergies.

Hay fever symptoms are those typically associated with springtime allergies due to increased levels of pollen in warmer weather. These include a stuffy nose and runny/stuffy nose that may lead to a cough, sneezing, itchy eyes and/or a feeling of being generally unwell.

In the majority of cases, hay fever is caused by allergen sensitization – there are certain allergens that irritate the body by releasing histamine.

If you have developed asthma as a result of an allergic reaction to allergen exposure, you may find your symptoms will be weaker and may not happen at all. If you have asthma, consult with your physician to evaluate your condition, medication options and alternatives to make allergy symptom management easier for you.

Hay Fever Symptoms

Hay fever is the most common cause of nasal allergies and is caused by pollen released by flowering plants that cause seasonal allergies. Hay fever can be experienced at any time of the year depending on what you have been exposed to, even if you’re suffering from spring allergies while the trees are blossoming and dusting your landscape with a fresh layer of pollen.

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The most common symptoms of hay fever are:

  • Sneezing
  • Nasal congestion (stuffy nose)
  • Watery eyes, itching eyes or conjunctivitis (pink eye) – this may be associated with allergic conjunctivitis.
  • Coughing
  • Nasal discharges in the morning – they may be clear, yellow or green
  • Headache (mild)
  • Itchy throat and/or ears

The symptoms of hay fever will vary from one person to another depending on the individual’s hay fever allergies. Some people may experience only a runny nose while others may experience nasal congestion and stuffy nose.

You may also experience all of these symptoms some of the time, but rarely develop a full-blown runny nose and a stuffy nose, though this is not uncommon.

In some cases, hay fever sufferers may also experience rashes (hives), dry skin, diarrhea or wheezing. Wheezing occurs when there is excess mucus buildup in the lungs and airways. When you breathe, it is difficult for your body to pull oxygen into the bloodstream which results in a feeling of chest tightness and shortness of breath.

If you have been diagnosed with asthma, wheezing may become a chronic condition as a result of allergies.

Hay fever can cause a bad reaction in people who have underlying problems, such as asthma and other allergic conditions that are already instigated by pollen and pet dander. If you have asthma or allergic rhinitis (hay fever) due to an allergy to a certain allergen, your condition may be exacerbated by pollen, dust or pet dander exposure.

A professional should evaluate your symptoms and establish if any allergy medications are required

What causes Hay Fever?

Hay fever is a reaction to an allergen, a substance that triggers an immune system response. Most people have hay fever triggered by pollen from trees, weeds, grasses and flowering plants.

Some of the most common causes of hay fever are:

  • Pollen from trees, such as birch tree pollen or cedar tree pollen; ragweed or other types of weeds can also cause allergies and will test positive on allergy blood tests. Some grasses that can cause allergies include Bermuda grass or Kentucky bluegrass; ryegrass is commonly found in areas with high traffic flow. Allergic reactions occur when you breathe in any part of the plant (pollen) into your nose and lungs.
  • Fungi – spores from mold or fungi can cause hay fever when they are inhaled.
  • House dust mites are microscopic creatures that produce proteins that trigger allergic reactions in the body. Dust mites are found in your bedding, upholstery and carpets. People with asthma and allergies may have a severe reaction to house dust mites, particularly if they are exposed to high levels of dust mite fodder (dander) or feces (mite waste).
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You can also be exposed to hay fever allergens by:

  • Pet dander – when you’re near a furry animal such as a cat or dog, you’ll likely breathe in the pet’s dander instead of the pollen.
  • Medications – some medications may cause an allergic reaction that will result in hay fever symptoms in susceptible individuals.
  • Chemical exposure – some people have an allergic reaction after being exposed to certain chemicals.
  • Food allergies or Food intolerances can also result in hay fever symptoms. Some of the most common foods that cause allergies are eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts and shellfish.

What are the risk factors?

There are many risk factors that can make you more prone to developing allergies to pollen and other allergens. Some of the risk factors include:

  1. You’re female – pollen is more prevalent during your menstrual cycle.
  2. You’re older – pollen levels are higher during the spring and summer months. It gets easier to predict when the hay fever season is going to end as you get older. Also, pollen levels tend to be higher for people over 55 years of age who have never been exposed to pollen before.
  3. You have a family history of hay fever or asthma – people with a family history of asthma or other allergies are at higher risk for itchy eyes, scratchy throat and sneezing symptoms.
  4. You have a history of allergies to certain foods or medications – you may already have an allergy to tree nuts, eggs and shellfish (such as shrimp). Because these allergies are hereditary, it’s possible that you may develop these allergy symptoms.
  5. You’ve been living in a city or region where pollen is prevalent – if you’ve just moved into a new area with a large population of people with pollen-related allergies, you may find yourself getting hay fever symptoms sooner than usual.

If you have hay fever, you’ll begin to see that your eyes are red and itchy and your throat will begin to get scratchy. You might have nasal congestion, sneezing fits and congested sinuses. The symptoms of hay fever can be more severe if you’re allergic to the same allergen with which you had been previously exposed.

Your nose will also resemble a pickle, so if you have allergies to certain foods, your nose might also smell like garlic or onions if the two foods are allergenic.

Nasal allergy is caused by the body’s immune system reacting to airborne allergens. When you breathe in these allergens, the nasal mucosa, or nasal lining, gets inflamed and small bumps form on the surface of your nose. These bumps are what we call “hives”.

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If you have nasal allergies, they will start in your nostrils and become worse when you inhale air. They can also affect your throat and ears as well as cause a runny nose. The symptoms often appear similar to hay fever.

You might be sneezing frequently, with a runny nose throughout the day and post-nasal drip.

When you drink, you might also get the symptoms of a sore throat and earache. Even if you are not sure of the cause, it is always a good idea to go see a doctor.

What Causes Post-Nasal Drip?

The most common reasons for post-nasal drip are infections, allergies and taking cold medication. It can also be caused by certain medications or environmental irritants such as smoke or dust. The symptoms can be treated with antihistamine medications but, if the cause is not identified and corrected, it will come back over time.

When the body’s mucous membrane (the lining of the nose) becomes swollen, the nasal cavity fills up with fluid. This causes a common symptom called post-nasal drip. It is a symptom that occurs when there is an infection or irritation in your nose.

The easiest way to describe it is that eventually, every time you sneeze or sniffle, some of this air goes into your throat. That air can get into your lungs and also go down from your throat and drip out of your nose as post-nasal drip.

The main cause of post-nasal drip can be diagnosed by carefully examining the symptoms alone.

A viral infection may be the cause of post-nasal drip. Viruses such as rhinovirus and the flu virus can be the reason for a persistent post-nasal drip. It is also possible that other viruses may affect the nose’s ability to adequately release mucous.

Other reasons for post-nasal drip are the inflammation of your nasal passages and the swelling of your sinus cavities – this causes an abnormal amount of fluid to accumulate in your nasal cavity, which is why it runs out of your nose when you hiccup or sneeze.

Musasi Isaac Christopher

An aspiring Lifestyle blogger who specializes in health, food and restaurant sectors. WhatsApp me on +256759100143.

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