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Hay Fever (Allergic Rhinitis): Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

If you are the type that love springs blossoms and falls, but you usually experience sneezing, running nose, or stuffy noses, then what you may be experiencing might be Hay fever.

Most people refer to Hay fever as seasonal allergies because most times, people experience it at specific periods of the year. Hay fever, which is often called allergic rhinitis, is a common condition that is often mistaken as the common cold.

According to the American Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ACDC), hay fever affects more than 18 million Americans every year. Unlike the common cold, hay fever isn’t caused by a virus or any other form of microorganisms.

Instead, it is produced as a result of an allergic response to either outdoor, indoor allergens, or both. Allergens such as pollen, dust mites, or tiny parts of skin or saliva dropped by certain animals such as cats, dogs, or other animals with feathers and/or fur can cause an allergic reason causing hay fever to occur.

Hay fever has the capacity to make you feel totally miserable, disrupt your day, and affect your performance both at school and at work. Because Hay fever has the ability to mimic the symptoms of common cold, doctors can misdiagnose it as cold.

However, there are certain differences that can help you as a person or guide your medical doctor to distinguish between hay fever and the common cold.

One crucial difference that you should note is that while hay fever doesn’t cause body pains and an increase in temperature resulting in fever, the common cold will result in body aches and severe fever if not adequately treated.

Causes of Hay fever

If you have hay fever, your immune system will be susceptible and, thus, identify some harmless airborne substances as an antigen. In response to an antigen, your body produces antibodies to help identify and fight against it.

Hence, the next time your body encounters such antigens, the antibodies present in your system will send an alert to your body’s immune system to produce certain chemicals such as histamine into your blood, which will, in turn, cause a physical reaction to occur that leads to the signs and symptoms that hay fever comes with.

Some allergens such as pollen, fungi, fur, mold, dust mites, perfumes, cigarette smokes, and so on can result in the development of hay fever.

Symptoms of Hay fever

The signs of hay fever include

  1. Running nose with watery secretions
  2. Nasal congestion
  3. Sneezing
  4. Severe cough
  5. Intense itchiness, which is often felt in the nose, mouth(mostly at the roof), and the throat.
  6. Allergic shiners which are often characterized by the presence of a bluish coloration under the skin of the eyes, which can sometimes appear swollen.
  7. Postnasal drips.
  8. Severe fatigue

Hay fever in infants

In infants, hay fever appears to be a very common problem. In fact, according to research, the highest number of people who present with Hay fever symptoms are children within the ages of 3-12 years.

It is very important that parents take note of allergy symptoms and treat it as urgently as possible. This is because if these allergies aren’t treated, they can go on to become certain complications that can be long-term in duration. Some of such complications include asthma, chronic ear infections, or sinusitis, as the case may be.

Most children, especially the younger ones, have problems dealing with Hay fever. Hay fever often presents as regular allergies with the common symptoms, but in more severe cases, it can result in the disruption of both their concentration and sleeping patterns.

It is quite easy, however, for parents to misdiagnose hay fever to be common cold in children. However, it is imperative as a parent to Look out for the sudden rise in temperature as an indication.

If there is a sudden rise in temperature alongside the symptoms listed above, then your child might not be dealing with Hay fever.

Instead, what he/she may have could be the common cold or other respiratory problems such as infective rhinitis, which can include upper respiratory tract infections, irritant rhinitis, which causes a reaction to both physical and chemical changes, and sinusitis.

Also, the symptoms of hay fever generally persist for a more extended period, while the symptoms of a common cold will typically resolve itself within a couple of days.

What are the long term symptoms of Hay fever that you can experience?

Generally, the symptoms of hay fever kick in within a few seconds or minutes to the time that the person is exposed. However, when you have these symptoms for more than a few days, you will begin to experience other signs which can indicate that a complication can be knocking on the door.

Some of such symptoms include:

  1. Ears that are clogged
  2. Sore throat
  3. A gradual decrease in one’s ability to smell
  4. Severe headaches
  5. Irritability
  6. Severe fatigue
  7. Puffiness under the eyes (mostly known as eye bags)
  8. Dark circles under the eyes that are often known as allergic shiners.

When you keep experiencing these symptoms and don’t treat them, over time, they can result in certain complications which are:

  • Reduction in the patient’s sleep quality
  • The presence of asthma is often indicated by severe constriction of the respiratory tract and its other related symptoms.
  • There will be a reduction in the quality of life of the patient. This is because the symptoms the patient is experiencing will reduce the patient’s involvement in many activities both at school, at home, and at work.

Sometimes, these symptoms will require the patient’s complete absence from activities in school, at work, and gatherings.

  • In some children, hay fever can gradually result in the development of ear infection, which can result in deafness after not being treated on time.
  • When the allergen enters the eye, it causes the irritation of certain parts of the eye, especially the conjunctiva, which is a thin transparent membrane that covers the eye and, as a result leading to conjunctivitis.
  • It can cause sinusitis, which is the result of an inflammation of the sinus. Sinusitis occurs as a result of persistent unresolved congestion.

Risk factors

There are certain factors that put you in the position of developing hay fever, and they include:

  1. Having asthma or other related allergic disorders
  2. Having eczema which is medically known as atopic dermatitis
  3. Genetics: if you have any family member or maybe a parent or a sibling who may have had allergies or has asthma, then you have an increased risk of developing hay fever.
  4. Having to stay or continuously work in environments that always expose you to these allergens will cause you to keep having allergic reactions that may lead to hay fever.
  5. If your parent, particularly your mother, smoked during the first few years of your life, your body may have developed antibodies for the smoke and, as such, making you allergic to it.

Because of their difference in causes and symptoms, their treatments will be very different.

Differences between Common Cold and Hay Fever

Hay Fever Allergic Rhinitis

1. Timing of the symptoms

Once a person has hay fever, the person will immediately start exhibiting symptoms of allergies. However, when a person is exposed to a common cold, it will take one to three days before the person begins to experience symptoms.

2. Duration of the symptoms

If you have hay fever and as long as you are exposed to the allergens, you will continue to experience the symptoms. However, common colds generally resolve itself within three to seven days maximum.

3. Symptoms

While hay fever comes with a runny nose with a thin watery discharge, common colds show up a bit differently. The symptoms of the common cold are a runny nose but with a thicker discharge that is often yellowish or milky in color.

4. Fever

One major difference between hay fever and common cold is the presence of fever. While hay fever doesn’t result in the increase of body temperature leading to a fever, common colds result in the presence of low-grade fever.

When should you visit your doctor if you have hay fever?

Generally, the symptoms of hay fever start out as being relatively incapable of being harmful to the person. However, when your symptoms are not being treated through over the counter medications, then you should be worried.

It could be because your symptoms are being mimicked but aren’t hay fever, or the exact cause of your allergy hasn’t been resolved, and as such, you are still continually being exposed.

There are other reasons you should visit your doctor because of your hay fever, and they include the following:

  1. If your symptoms are keeping you away from your life because they are bothersome
  2. If your symptoms are lasting a week or more.
  3. Your over-the-counter medications aren’t helping out in any way.
  4. You have an underlying condition such as asthma that keeps making the symptoms you feel worse.
  5. Your symptoms are fast becoming severe.
  6. If the medications that you are using for your allergies are having severe side effects.
  7. If you are looking for other ways to resolve your allergy symptoms.


Deborah Akinola
Wirter, poet and public speaker

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