Short term inflammation of the nasal passages is termed as allergies. When these allergies get triggered off during a particular season, they are known as seasonal allergies. Hay fever is the term commonly used by the layman to describe a seasonal allergy. Most of the seasonal allergies are caused by grass, pollen and mold.
Prevalence of seasonal allergies
It is believed that seasonal allergies affect more than 40 million American people and account for more than $ one billion annually as medical expenditure.
Risk factors for seasonal allergies
Although seasonal allergies can begin at any age, they normally present themselves before the age of twenty. The average age at which a person begins to show symptoms of seasonal allergy is ten years.
Like any other condition that affects the immune system, it is common to see seasonal allergies running in families. In more than 50% of patients, one or the other close relative is also found to be suffering from the condition.
Seasonal allergies do not show any special predilection for any sex. They are equally prevalent in both males and females. Similarly, they do not show any discrimination on the basis of ethnicity.
Causes of seasonal allergies
In individuals who are more sensitive to certain type of allergens, exposure to these allergens starts an allergic reaction. The allergen is viewed by the defense mechanism of the individual as some sort of infectious agent. The body releases a number of chemicals like histamine in order to contain the infection. These chemicals lead to the symptoms of allergy which, in turn, cause irritation and discomfort. The allergic reaction normally starts within 5 to 10 minutes of exposure to the allergen, lasts for an hour and may recur after two to four hours.
The common symptoms seen in a person suffering from seasonal allergy include:
- Runny nose
- Watering from eyes
- Itchiness of throat
- Chest congestion
- Impairment of smell and taste sensations
- Disturbance of sleep
Diagnosis of seasonal allergies
Diagnosis of seasonal allergies is made on the basis of several factors. First and foremost is the triggering of symptoms during the pollen season. If the patient complains of allergic symptoms at the time of the year when the pollen count in air is high, the diagnosis is most likely to be that of seasonal allergy. It is further strengthened if the patient has a family history of seasonal allergy.
The doctor would like to know if someone in the house is a smoker or if there are any pets around. This is because seasonal allergy may also be triggered by smoke or animal dander. The doctor would also like to know the age of the patient when he first noticed the symptoms.
A blood test may be done to find out the eosinophil count. This is normally increased in allergic patients.
The doctor may like to conduct an allergic skin test to determine the allergen. During this test, the skin is scratched with multiple needles, each of which contains a small amount of different types of allergens. When the skin is scratched with the causative allergen, there may be a localized skin reaction.
Treatment of seasonal allergies
The most important factor in the treatment of seasonal allergies is adopting preventive measures. This may include staying indoors when the pollen count in the air is high, using special masks and wearing sunglasses when working out, and using air conditioners instead of leaving the windows open.
Most of the seasonal allergies respond well to over the counter anti-histamine medicines like diphenhydramine and clemastine. Nasal congestion may be relieved with the help of pseudoephedrine nasal drops.
If the symptoms are severe, the doctor may prescribe immunotherapy. Here, small amounts of allergen are injected into the patient and the dose is increased gradually till the patient becomes immune to it. This treatment usually takes three to five years to complete.