Hay Fever
(Allergic Rhinitis)

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Hay fever facts.

  • Hay fever (Allergic rhinitis) is common.
  • Allergy symptoms mimic chronic colds.
  • Allergic rhinitis can lead to other diseases.
  • The best way to treat an allergy condition is to identify the allergic substance and avoid it.
  • Effective treatment is available in many forms.

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

Hay fever affects up to 30% of all people worldwide, including up to 10% of U.S. children under 17 and 7.8% of U.S. adults. The medical cost of allergic rhinitis is approximately $3.4 billion, mostly because of 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 "irritation of the nose" and is a derivative of rhino, meaning nose. Allergic rhinitis which 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 sometime used because the two conditions frequently occur together.

Symptoms of allergic rhinitis, or hay fever, frequently include nasal congestion, a clear runny nose, sneezing, nose and eye itching, and 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.

Allergic rhinitis can lead to other diseases such as sinusitis and asthma. Many people with allergies have difficulty with social and physical activities. For example, concentration is often difficult while experiencing allergic rhinitis.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/17/2013

Learn to manage your hay fever symptoms.

10 Ways to Manage Your Hay Fever Symptoms

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

"Hay fever" (seasonal allergic rhinitis) affects over 20% of the people living in the U.S. Most common in early spring, the symptoms of hay fever develop as a reaction to allergens (allergy-causing substances) in the air, most notably to pollens in the early spring. Other examples of airborne allergens include moldspores, dust, and animal dander.

Pollenconsists of the minuscule, male cells of flowering plants. Pollen from garden flowers usually doesn't cause allergies, since this type of pollen is large and waxy and most often carried by insects. Small, light, dry pollens produced by trees, grasses, and weeds can disseminate with the wind and lead to allergic symptoms.

Your doctor can help you determine whether treatments are necessary, such as prescription or non-prescription antihistaminesto control the symptoms of hay fever. Whether or not you take medication for hay fever, you can still take steps to reduce the severity of your symptoms. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI) has some useful tips for those who suffer from seasonal allergies...