What Is the Treatment for Hay Fever?

Last Editorial Review: 1/11/2018

Ask the experts

What do I do about my condition "hay fever?"

Doctor's response

The term "hay fever' is somewhat of a misnomer, since this term is used by patients to describe the combination of symptoms including sneezing, watery and runny nose, and itching eyes, nose, and throat during the hay cutting season of the year. The actual allergic culprit is ragweed pollen and not hay. Also, there is no associated elevated body temperature, so the term fever is used in the broader sense of "discomfort." The medical term is "allergic rhinitis."

Allergic rhinitis develops when the immune system becomes confused and overreacts to harmless substances and produces a special kind of protective antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). IgE attaches to a specialized body cell called the mast cell which contains already formed chemicals called mediators to do its work. One of these chemicals is called histamine. Therefore, when one cannot avoid an allergic culprit, the next most common treatment for "hay fever" or "allergic rhinitis" is the use of an anti-histamine, which is readily available over the counter without a prescription. Unfortunately, many over the counter anti-histamines cause tiredness, but there are newer prescription anti-histamines that you might want to ask your doctor about which can greatly decrease this side effect. When medications are not effective, allergists use allergen immunization or "allergy injection therapy" to help correct the immune system.

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