Hayfever & Allergy
If you sneeze a lot, if your nose is often runny or stuffy, or if your eyes, mouth or nose often feel itchy, you may have allergic rhinitis, a condition that affects 40 million to 60 million Americans.
Allergic rhinitis develops when the body’s immune system becomes sensitized and overreacts to something in the environment that typically causes no problem in most people.
Allergic rhinitis is commonly known as hay fever. But you don’t have to be exposed to hay to have symptoms. And contrary to what the name suggests, you don’t have to have a fever to have hay fever.
Allergic rhinitis takes two different forms:
- Seasonal: Symptoms of seasonal allergic rhinitis can occur in spring, summer and early fall. They are usually caused by allergic sensitivity to airborne mold spores or to pollens from grass, trees and weeds.
- Perennial: People with perennial allergic rhinitis experience symptoms year-round. It is generally caused by dust mites, pet hair or dander, cockroaches or mold. Underlying or hidden food allergies rarely cause perennial nasal symptoms.
Some people may experience both types of rhinitis, with perennial symptoms getting worse during specific pollen seasons. There are also nonallergic causes for rhinitis including irritants such as cigarette or other smoke, perfumes, cleaning products and other strong odors.
Hay Fever Symptoms
- Runny nose
- Itchy eyes, mouth or skin
- Stuffy nose due to blockage or congestion
- Fatigue (often reported due to poor quality sleep as a result of nasal obstruction)
Hay Fever Triggers
- Outdoor allergens, such as pollens from grass, trees and weeds
- Indoor allergens, such as pet hair or dander, dust mites and mold
- Irritants, such as cigarette smoke, perfume and diesel exhaust
Hay Fever Management and Treatment
Avoid triggers by making changes to your home and to your behavior.
- Keep windows closed during high pollen periods; use air conditioning in your home and car.
- Wear glasses or sunglasses when outdoors to keep pollen out of your eyes.
- Use “mite-proof” bedding covers to limit exposure to dust mites and a dehumidifier to control mold. (If you smell mildew, you likely have mold).
- Wash your hands after petting any animal and have a nonallergic person help with pet grooming, preferably in a well-ventilated area or outside.
Control some symptoms with over-the-counter medication.
- Antihistamines (eyedrops and oral medication)
- Steroid nasal spray (Flonase, Rhinocort, Nasacort)
See an allergist to help confirm your triggers and for prescription medications, which may be more effective.
- Antihistamines (eyedrops, nasal spray and oral medication)
- Allergy shots (immunotherapy)
Asthma and emphysema are two entirely different diseases with some symptoms in common. Asthma is a spastic and inflammatory disease of the airways that causes reversible obstruction of the bronchial tubes. It usually responds to treatment.
Emphysema is a disease of the lung tissue, especially the alveoli (air sacs) at the end of the bronchial tubes. Emphysema results from destruction of these alveoli. This process is not reversible and responds less well to medical treatment. Emphysema is slowly progressive; you will get short of breath and become more disabled as time goes on. Eventually you may require continuous concentrated oxygen to be comfortable. This irreversible disease (and other obstructive lung diseases such as chronic bronchitis) is often referred to as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness or pain
- Trouble sleeping caused by shortness of breath, coughing or wheezing
- A whistling or wheezing sound when exhaling (wheezing is a common sign of asthma in children)
- Coughing or wheezing attacks that are worsened by a respiratory virus, such as a cold or the flu
- Asthma signs and symptoms that are more frequent and bothersome
- Increasing difficulty breathing (measurable with a peak flow meter, a device used to check how well your lungs are working)
- The need to use a quick-relief inhaler more often