What Is Hay Fever? Allergic Rhinitis: Symptoms & Treatment Options

What is hay fever?  It’s a common term in vogue to refer to the symptoms of sneezing, runny noses, stuffy noses, and itchy red, watery eyes, triggered by exposure to pollen.  However, these are not usually caused by hay and not associated with fever!  “Allergic Rhinitis” is a more accurate term as it describes the true cause of hay fever, which is inflammation of the lining and other tissues inside the nose.

Also read: Hay Fever in the Washington, DC Area

All of us are exposed to dust mites, mold spores, and pollen very frequently and a majority of us do not have any symptoms as these substances are inherently harmless.   However, some of us are “sensitized” to them, usually determined by our genetic make-up.   In sensitive people, the immune system considers them harmful and forms antibodies to fight them off.   These antibodies (Immunoglobulin E or IgE) are specific to particular substances and memorize their triggers.  When we are sensitized and exposed to the indoor or outdoor allergens, they bind to their specific antibodies and cause chemicals like histamine to be released from different cells, resulting in the classical symptoms.

More than 40 million Americans suffer from Allergic Rhinitis and Allergic Conjunctivitis (inflammation of the membrane covering the eyeball and insides of the eyelids) and the severity can range from mild to debilitating.   In more severe cases the symptoms of hay fever like nasal blockage, post nasal drip, cough, and sleep disturbances can have a substantial impact on the quality of life and many lost work and school days. Indoor allergens like dust mites, pets, and some molds cause year round symptoms whereas outdoor allergens like tree, grass, and weed pollen cause misery in certain seasons.  When over the counter remedies are not relieving the symptoms adequately, physicians specially trained in the treatment of these conditions (board certified allergists) can offer substantial help.

The allergist starts by taking a detailed history of symptoms and environmental triggers and follows up with a focused physical examination.  Simple exams like skin tests are extremely helpful in identifying the specific hay fever triggers which may vary from person to person.  This will enable us to institute some environmental controls in order to reduce exposure to the offending substances and to consider desensitization protocols to enhance the “tolerance” of the immune system so that it does not overreact when it encounters the allergens.  Several well designed clinical studies have proved that this process is very effective in relieving the symptoms of hay fever and reduce the need for medications in 80 to 85% of people over the long term.

What is hay fever?  Now that you can identify it, you can confide in the physicians and staff at Black & Kletz Allergy practice who have had decades of experience and expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of this common condition. Allergic Rhinitis (hay fever) in the Washington, DC area and Allergic Conjunctivitis are our specialty and we are committed to offer these services in a professional and caring atmosphere.  Our focus is not only to thoroughly evaluate and treat patients, but also to educate them so that they become empowered to take active control of their allergies.