What you should know about hay fever
Posted on 13 September 2016
You know the symptoms – those itchy eyes, runny nose and frequent sneezing all mean that it’s spring. But although seasonal allergies are prevalent at this time of year, it’s not just a springtime affliction. Allergic rhinitis, the official medical term for hay fever, can strike at any time and at the change of any season, depending on what is causing the allergy.
Root cause of hay fever
The most common environmental allergens – substances that cause allergic rhinitis – are pollen, grass seeds, dust, nasty critters called house dust mites, pet dander (tiny flecks of skin shed by animals with fur or feathers), pollution and mould spores.
‘Worldwide, allergic rhinitis is said to be on the rise and it’s believed that pollution may be the underlying cause,’ says Dr Gary Middleton of Mediclinic Tzaneen. Fortunately allergic rhinitis can be treated fairly successfully, provided it is diagnosed and managed.
Find the pattern
The first step towards diagnosing and treating a seasonal allergy is to take a good look at the patient’s medical history. ‘We often see recurring infections, such as a middle ear infection caused by persistent nasal congestion,’ says Dr Middleton. ‘Or there might be medical conditions such as asthma that flare up at the same time every year. This is usually a sign that seasonal allergies are playing a role.’
Take a test
The next step is to identify what the sufferer is allergic to and minimise exposure to the substance, but that’s easier said than done. ‘It’s not always possible to avoid pollution, move premises or banish a beloved family pet,’ Dr Middleton explains.
There are two tests you can take:
- A radioallergosorbent (RAST) blood test can help determine what substances you might be allergic to.
- A Phadiotop test helps to determine whether the allergy is being caused by something in your environment.
These tests are useful if, for example, you are allergic to house dust mites. You could then take measures to eliminate them from your home by removing carpets and regularly vacuuming curtains, cushions, mattresses and bedding.
Best treatment options
Most environmental allergens are hard to eliminate, so Dr Middleton suggests adopting a treatment protocol of either daily oral antihistamines and/or inhaled corticosteroids. Both antihistamines and steroid nasal sprays are very effective in treating allergic rhinitis and have few side effects – provided they are used correctly.
‘I tell my patients to take antihistamines at night in case it makes them drowsy, and to use their left hand to squirt nasal spray up their right nostril and vice versa. This ensures that that the spray gets to the appropriate place and doesn’t irritate the nasal septum.’
Know the signs
If you suspect that you have a seasonal allergy or are allergic to something in your environment, it’s a good idea to consult your GP. Persistent bad breath, nightly snoring, ongoing nasal congestion or repeated upper respiratory infections are all signs that you may be suffering from allergies.
Untreated allergic rhinitis has a marked negative impact on your quality of life and can lead to unnecessary complications such as infections or delayed speech and impaired hearing in children.