What Is Hay Fever Season & Understanding Treatment Options
Oh, August! The month of peaches and tomatoes, back-to-school jitters, and – of course – hay fever, which tends to be especially prevalent during this month and into the fall season. Hay fever is one of the most common chronic conditions, affecting millions of people every year. Read on to find out about what it is, what it’s not, and how to manage it.
What Is Hay Fever?
Hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, is an allergic reaction to airborne substances, like pollen from grasses, trees, and weeds. It typically occurs when these plants release pollen into the air, and the immune system of sensitive individuals reacts to it.
The timing of symptoms can vary depending on the type of pollen someone is allergic to and their geographic location. Generally, there are three main types of pollen and associated hay fever seasons:
- Tree Pollen: Tree pollen tends to be released in the spring, usually starting in late February or March and continuing through May.
- Grass Pollen: Grass pollen is a common trigger for hay fever, and its peak season is typically during late spring and early summer, from May to June.
- Weed Pollen: Weed pollen allergies are often triggered during late summer and early fall, from August to October.
Hay fever can be worse in August due to high pollen counts from plants like ragweed, longer exposure to allergens, hot and dry weather, air pollution, cross-reactivity with certain foods, and late-blooming plants.
Is It a Cold, or Is That Hay I Smell?
“Hay fever” is a misleading term that has nothing to do with hay or fever. It got its name in the 19th century due to the mistaken association between its symptoms with the haying season. It is often mistaken for the common cold because the symptoms are similar. In reality, it is an allergic reaction, causing sneezing, a runny nose, and itchy eyes. Here are some key differences between hay fever and a cold:
- Cause: A cold is caused by a viral infection, while hay fever results from an allergic reaction.
- Timing: Colds can occur at any time, but hay fever typically happens during specific pollen seasons.
- Fever: Colds may cause a fever, but hay fever does not.
- Duration: Colds generally last for a week or two, while hay fever symptoms can persist for weeks or months, depending on allergen exposure.
- Symptoms: Both conditions may share some similar symptoms like sneezing and a runny or stuffy nose. However, hay fever can cause additional symptoms such as itchy eyes, nose, and throat.
- Contagion: Colds are contagious, but hay fever is not.
- Treatment: Rest, hydration, and over-the-counter cold remedies can help with a cold. For hay fever, antihistamines, nasal corticosteroids, and avoiding allergens are common treatments.
Understanding the differences can help you manage your symptoms appropriately and seek the right treatment for either condition.
Hay Fever Treatment
If you or a family member is affected, there are many things you can do to alleviate symptoms and feel better:
- Avoid triggers: identify and avoid pollen and other allergens that trigger your symptoms. You can track pollen levels using local weather reports or pollen count websites to be prepared for high pollen days.
- Stay indoors: limit outdoor activities during high pollen times; keep windows closed. Use air conditioning with a HEPA filter to help purify the indoor air.
- Shower and change clothes: after spending time outdoors, take a shower and change your clothes to wash away any pollen that may have collected on your body and clothing.
- Nasal rinse: use a saline nasal rinse to clear allergens from your nose.
- Over-the-counter meds: consider antihistamines and decongestants for relief.
If symptoms are especially bothersome, consult a medical professional. Ask your doctor about stronger prescription medication or immunotherapy – severe cases may benefit from allergy shots. You can also reach out to an allergist for personalized treatment.
Want to learn more about allergies and allergy relief? Check out this blog from Dr. Christina about seasonal allergies in kids.