Hay fever: Symptoms, causes, and treatment

Hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, is a common condition with symptoms similar to those of a cold. There may be sneezing, congestion, runny nose, and sinus pressure.

It is caused by an allergic response to airborne substances, such as pollen. The time of year it happens depends on what substance, or allergen, the person reacts to.

Despite its name, hay fever does not mean that the person is allergic to hay and has a fever. Hay is hardly ever an allergen, and fever is not a symptom.

Allergic rhinitis is the fifth most common disease in the United States (U.S.).

This article is about hay fever, or allergic rhinitis. You can read about non-allergic rhinitis here.

Fast facts on hay fever

Here are some key points about hay fever. More detail is in the main article.

Allergic rhinitis, often called hay fever, can cause sneezing, a stuffy or runny nose, watery eyes, and itching of the nose, eyes or the roof of the mouth.

In the U.S., 20 million people aged 18 years and over were diagnosed with hay fever in 2016, or 8.2 percent of the adult population. Nine percent of children, or 6.1 million, received a diagnosis.

Seasonal allergic rhinitis is more common in the spring, summer, and early fall.

Symptoms are usually caused by allergic sensitivity to pollens from trees, grasses, or weeds, or to airborne mold spores.

Treatment includes avoiding, eliminating, or decreasing exposure to allergens, medication, and immunotherapy, or allergy shots.

Symptoms

Hay fever is sometimes, but not always, related to pollen.
Hay fever is sometimes, but not always, related to pollen.

Symptoms can start at different times of the year, depending on what substance the patient is allergic to.

A person who is allergic to a common pollen will have more severe symptoms when the pollen count is high.

Common symptoms include:

sneezing

watery eyes

itchy throat

a blocked, itchy, or runny nose

Severe symptoms may include:

sweats

headaches

loss of smell and taste

facial pain caused by blocked sinuses

itchiness spreading from the throat to the nose and ears

Some people may experience tiredness or fatigue, irritability, and insomnia.

People with asthma may experience more wheezing and breathlessness at times when hay fever symptoms are common.

A pinprick test can identify what is causing the allergic reaction.
A pinprick test can identify what is causing the allergic reaction.

To specify the correct treatment, a doctor will look at the symptoms and ask about personal and family medical history.

A blood or skin test can identify which substance the patient is allergic to.

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