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Allergic rhinitis—also known as “hay fever”—is an allergic reaction affecting the mucous membranes of the eyes and nose, caused by exposure to allergenic particles in the air such as pollen, dust, mold, and dust mites. Seasonal allergies affect up to 50 million Americans and are the 6th leading cause of chronic illness in the U.S. The peak season for allergies is generally Spring through early Summer when concentrations of pollen in the air are at their highest. However, allergic rhinitis can occur in any season, especially in warm climates. Desert and mountain climates tend to have lower pollen and mold counts and thus are preferable for people who suffer from seasonal allergies.
Other Types of Allergies
Aside from seasonal allergies, there are many other types of allergic reactions which may cause suffering and require treatment for millions of people. These include: food allergies, drug allergies, allergic asthma, and contact dermatitis. Common food allergies include allergies to eggs, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat. The most common drug allergies are to penicillin and related antibiotics. Allergic asthma is a more severe condition caused by the same particles which cause hay fever—such as pollen, dust, and mold—but affecting a person’s airways rather than just their sinuses.
Seasonal allergies typically at least involve symptoms of allergic rhinitis—sneezing, a runny or stuffy nose, and itchy or watery eyes. Sneezing or a runny nose could also be symptoms of a viral illness such as the common cold or the flu. Sometimes, allergic reactions can have more varied and severe symptoms such as headaches, hives, other skin rashes, swelling in the face, wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, fatigue, malaise, and digestive issues. Hay fever alone is generally not life-threatening but is often chronic and can be extremely unpleasant. Allergic reactions to certain foods and chemicals can be more serious. Finally, anaphylactic shock is a sudden, severe, and sometimes life-threatening condition which must be treated immediately.
Treatment & Care
Treatment of mild to moderate cases of hay fever-like allergies may involve taking over-the-counter or prescription antihistamines, decongestants, and nasal corticosteroid sprays. Antihistamines work to reduce symptoms of allergies by blocking a compound called histamine in the body which is responsible for regulating immune responses. Treatment of skin rashes caused by allergic reactions may involve the application of topical medications such as hydrocortisone cream or astringents such as calamine lotion.