If something has little to do with either hay or fever, why call it hay fever?
Anyone who suffers from itchy eyes, runny nose, and post-nasal drainage during the summer months knows how hay fever feels, even if they’ve never called it that. Nowadays doctors call hay fever ‘seasonal allergic rhinitis’ instead. In addition to the above symptoms, some patients suffer from cough, fatigue, or wheezing. In over 25 years of medicine, I have yet to see someone who actually runs a fever, at least not in the traditional over-heated sense. Perhaps it was originally called a ‘fever’ because until this past century the difference between infection and allergy was not well-understood.
As for the allergy component, certainly people can be allergic to hay, but most of us are not around hay on a daily basis. However, we are around grass and weeds, and may be allergic to either. Each spring, tree pollen is the earliest environmental allergy trigger, followed by grass, and then weeds. Ragweed is one of the more common weeds that induce symptoms in mid to late summer.
Here are 5 things your doctor would suggest to treat hay fever effectively:
1. Stay inside, in air conditioning. For some summertime allergy sufferers, this is the number one option. It certainly works, yet I hate to recommend avoiding fresh air and exercise. When you do go outside, try to make it at a time when no one nearby is mowing their grass. You may also find that certain times of the day are better or worse for your symptoms.
2. Get a shower after spending time outside. The pollen and other plant allergens not only get in your eyes and nose as you breathe, they settle on your skin, your hair, and your clothing. A simple shower and change of clothing will lower the allergy burden and lessen your symptoms.
3. Use an over-the-counter antihistamine. The OTC antihistamines are excellent choices to prevent itching, runny nose, and postnasal drainage. Claritin, Benadryl, and Zyrtec all were prescription medications not that long ago and now all come in inexpensive generics. They can all be used to prevent as well as to treat symptoms.
4. For congestion, use pseudoephedrine. Due to the trouble with methamphetamine manufacture and abuse, most OTC allergy medications were switched a few years ago from pseudoephedrine to less effective decongestants. However, the real pseudoephedrine can still be obtained at the pharmacy counter with your signature. Some patients, including yours truly, find this the most effective medicine for congestion, and occasionally for itching and drainage as well.
5. Use topical eye drops and nose sprays. If your symptoms are limited to your eyes, you may want to try a topical antihistamine or anti-inflammatory nose spray, such as Zaditor. To prevent nasal symptoms, you may find NasalCrom effective, another medication that was previously by prescription only. It works similarly to the prescription nasal steroid sprays (but a lot cheaper).
If the above suggestions don’t help, see your doctor. You may be suffering from an infection rather than allergy, or you may benefit from a short-term steroid or an inhaler, or you may require allergy testing. The majority of patients, though, will find sufficient relief using one or a combination of these over-the-counter treatments.
Copyright 2010 Cynthia J. Koelker, M.D.