Hay Fever (Allergic Rhinitis)

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

View 10 Common Allergy Triggers Slideshow Pictures
Man with hay fever symptoms.

Hay Fever Symptoms

Allergies are exaggerated immune responses to environmental triggers known as allergens. Allergies are very common, and about 50 million people in North America suffer from allergies. One of the most common forms of allergy is allergic rhinitis ("hay fever"), which produces symptoms like

  • nasal congestion,
  • itchy and watery eyes,
  • sneezing,
  • stuffy or runny nose,
  • scratchy or sore throat,
  • throat clearing,
  • cough from postnasal drip.

The symptoms of hay fever can, in turn, lead to fatigue and lethargy.

Quick GuideAllergy Pictures Slideshow: 10 Common Allergy Triggers

Allergy Pictures Slideshow: 10 Common Allergy Triggers

Hay fever facts

  • Hay fever (allergic rhinitis) is a common allergic condition.
  • Symptoms of hay fever mimic those of chronic colds.
  • The best way to treat an allergy condition is to identify the allergic trigger and avoid it.
  • Histamine is a key chemical cause of allergic rhinitis and other allergic reactions.
  • Effective treatment is available in many forms, including medications and desensitization therapy (immunotherapy).
  • Antihistamines are the drugs most commonly used to treat allergic rhinitis.

What is hay fever? What are hay fever symptoms and signs?

Hay fever affects up to 30% of all people worldwide, including up to 10% of U.S. children under 17 years of age and 7.8% of U.S. adults. The medical cost of allergic rhinitis is approximately $3.4 billion, mostly due to the cost of prescription medications. These figures are probably an underestimate because many of those affected may attribute their discomfort to a chronic cold. Although childhood hay fever tends to be more common, this condition can occur at any age and usually occurs after years of repeated inhalation of allergic substances. The incidence of allergic disease has dramatically increased in the U.S. and other developed countries over recent decades.

"Hay fever" is a misnomer. Hay is not a usual cause of this problem, and it does not cause fever. Early descriptions of sneezing, nasal congestion, and eye irritation while harvesting field hay promoted this popular term. Allergic rhinitis is the correct term used to describe this allergic reaction, and many different substances cause the allergic symptoms noted in hay fever. Rhinitis means "inflammation of the nose" and is a derivative of rhino, meaning nose. Allergic rhinitis that occurs during a specific season is called "seasonal allergic rhinitis." When it occurs throughout the year, it is called "perennial allergic rhinitis." Rhinosinusitis is the medical term that refers to inflammation of the nasal lining as well as the lining tissues of the sinuses. This term is sometimes used because the two conditions frequently occur together.

Symptoms of allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, frequently include

  • nasal congestion,
  • a runny nose with clear mucus,
  • sneezing,
  • nose, eye itching,
  • excess tear production in the eyes.

Postnasal dripping of clear mucus frequently causes a cough. Loss of the sense of smell is common, and loss of taste sense occurs occasionally. Nose bleeding may occur if the condition is severe. Eye itching, redness, and excess tears in the eyes frequently accompany the nasal symptoms. The eye symptoms are referred to as "allergic conjunctivitis" (inflammation of the whites of the eyes). These allergic symptoms often interfere with one's quality of life and overall health.

Many people with allergies have difficulty with social and physical activities. For example, concentration is often difficult while experiencing allergic rhinitis symptoms.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/18/2015
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