Hay Fever: Symptoms and Help for Pollen Allergy

Hay Fever: Symptoms and Help for Pollen Allergy

One’s joy, the other’s sorrow: for most, spring is associated with happy feelings. For those suffering from hay fever, on the other hand, the time of sneezing attacks, tingling noses and reddened eyes begins. In Germany, about every fourth person is affected – and the trend is rising. What are the typical symptoms of hay fever, what long-term health consequences can pollen allergy have and what treatment options are there? We give helpful tips.

Causes of hay fever

Hay fever attacks are triggered by pollen from trees, shrubs, grass and grain. They enter the body via the respiratory tract and trigger an allergic reaction in hypersensitive people: the body reacts to supposedly dangerous foreign substances and forms IgE antibodies. These cause the release of the inflammatory messenger histamine, and the body tries to ward off the “invaders” with symptoms such as sneezing and watery eyes.

Even if the predisposition to hay fever is genetic and can therefore be inherited, hay fever is not innate. Only through repeated contact with the allergens does the immune system overreact.

By the way: Many siblings reduce the risk of children suffering from hay fever. According to experts, complete children’s rooms must be more hygienic. The child’s immune system is trained through the constant exchange of germs and allergens. Conversely, too much hygiene promotes the occurrence of allergies. In addition, hay fever can be favoured if babies are not breastfed or not breastfed sufficiently.


Typical symptoms of pollen allergy

Not every affected person is allergic to every type of pollen. Therefore, the symptoms appear at different times – depending on when the plant in question flowers and sheds its pollen. Some people with allergies are plagued by allergic rhinitis almost all year round.

The first signs are itchy and red eyes and tingling in the nose. Then the mucous membranes swell, and tears, sneezing attacks and a blocked nose occur.

Here are the symptoms of hay fever at a glance:

  • Runny nose with solid formation of watery fluid
  • stuffy nose caused by the swollen nasal mucosa
  • violent, frequent sneezing attacks, itching
  • Redness, itching, burning, sensitivity to light, and tearing in the eyes
  • fatigue
  • headache
  • fatigue, irritability
  • itchy skin, swelling

Other consequences of a pollen allergy

The symptoms mentioned are the relatively harmless symptoms of a pollen allergy. Those affected with severe allergic reactions or who have had hay fever for a long time may develop other symptoms, such as:

  • Cough
  • shortness of breath
  • Bronchial asthma (allergic asthma)
  • gastrointestinal disorders
  • migraine
  • skin eczema
  • conjunctivitis

People with pollen allergies also often complain of sleep disturbancesThe resulting tiredness promotes concentration problems and depression.

In some cases, allergy sufferers also experience nosebleeds. Because while the dry air already dries out the mucous membranes in spring, hay fever can cause inflammation in the nose and dry out the mucous membranes as well. In some cases, as a result, there is always blood in the handkerchief after blowing the nose.


Allergic asthma: dangerous change of floors

The development of allergic asthma in particular can cause serious health problems. This so-called change of level, i.e. the shifting of the symptoms from the upper respiratory tract to the bronchi, is manifested in the early stages by problems with breathing, increased coughing and whistling or rattling breathing noises.

At this point, medical advice should be sought as soon as possible to avoid aggravation of the symptoms. However, earlier treatment can usually prevent it from getting to this point in the first place.

Diagnosis of hay fever

The symptoms of hay fever are so typical that the suspected diagnosis is usually quickly established. The time of year, when the hay fever occurs, provides clues as to which pollen has an allergenic effect:

  • Hazel and alder pollen fly first.
  • In April and May it is mainly poplar, willow, birch, oak and beech.
  • Rye pollen and other grain pollen, and sweet grasses in meadows and pastures, start flying fromfrom late May to June.
  • In July and August, the pollen of herbs such as nettle, mugwort and plantain are blown away by the wind.
  • Around the same time, the spores of the moulds Alternaria and Cladosporium are also found in the air. They need very high humidity to form their spores. They are therefore really active on cool and damp late summer evenings.

With mild temperatures, however, the first pollen fly in winter – the season for pollen allergy sufferers starts between February and March with hazelnut and alder.

For a reliable diagnosis of a pollen allergy, skin tests (so-called prick tests) are therefore carried out, in which pollen extracts are scratched onto the skin. Blood tests (RAST test) supplement the diagnosis. In this way, other allergies, such as an allergy to house dust mite excrement, can be ruled out as a cause.

Cross allergies with food.

Unfortunately, even with allergies, misfortune rarely comes alone. People who suffer from pollen allergies often have an allergic reaction to certain foods. One then speaks of cross allergies.

These pollen-associated food allergies are among the most common food allergies:

  • Birch, alder, hazel:  plum, apricot, cherry, peach, apple, pear, kiwi, nectarine, hazelnut, almond, carrot, celery, tomato, carrot, dilloregano , cumin, coriander
  • Grasses: Cereal flour, soy, peanut, lentils, mango, melon, pistachios
  • Herbs, for example, mugwort, chamomile, plantain:  celery, fennel, carrot, tomato, pepper, anise, cumin, coriander, parsley, basil, pepper, nutmeg
  • Dust mites: Seafood, such as shrimp, clams or lobster
  • Natural latex: passion fruit, mango, pineapple, banana, peach, chestnut


Therapy of hay fever

Consistent treatment of pollen allergies is essential, as allergic asthma can develop from hay fever. It is therefore essential to treat your pollen allergy promptly and consistently so that such a shift to the bronchial tubes does not occur in the first place.

If you suspect an allergy or experience severe symptoms such as hives or breathing difficulties, you should seek medical advice – ideally in an allergy practice. There you will be advised on the different treatment methods for hay fever, you can do an allergy test and, if necessary, be prescribed more effective anti-allergic and anti-inflammatory tablets, nasal sprays or eye drops – for example with cortisone.

Medicines that relieve the symptoms of hay fever

The following medications can relieve the symptoms of pollen allergy:

  • For prevention and treatment, nasal spray or eye drops containing, for example, cromoglicic acid or nedocromil are used. The latter active ingredients are so-called mast cell stabilizers. These are intended to prevent the body from releasing histamine.
  • If the nasal mucous membranes are swollen, you can use decongestant nasal drops or spray for a short time.
  • In the case of red eyes, eye drops can help against conjunctivitis in the short term.
  • Antiallergic tablets, sprays or drops – so-called antihistamines such as cetirizine or loratadine – help with severe, acute symptoms.
  • There are also homoeopathic remedies for prevention and treatment.
  • Do not neglect nose care: It is essential to keep the mucous membranes in the respiratory tract moist because they represent a crucial protection against viruses and bacteria.
  • In severe cases, so-called glucocorticoids such as cortisone are used. These suppress the body’s defence reaction, but should only be used in low doses, as they can also impair the function of the rest of the immune system. However, such an effect is not expected with the local application of nasal sprays or eye drops containing cortisone.

Causal therapy – hyposensitization

The only therapy that attempts to eliminate the allergy completely is hyposensitization (so-called “allergy vaccination” or specific immunotherapy). The affected person is injected with the allergen (i.e., the respective trigger of the symptoms) slowly, increasing doses over usually two to three years to make them insensitive to the allergen.

The immune system then usually reacts with a change, so that allergens that previously triggered a disease-causing defence reaction through the antibodies are tolerated again. This treatment is successful in up to 90 per cent of cases.

An alternative to injections (subcutaneous immunotherapy) is sublingual immunotherapy, in which the allergens are taken orally daily in the form of tablets or drops.


Ten tips against hay fever

The following tips will make life easier for you with a pollen allergy by avoiding the triggers as much as possible:

  1. During “your” pollen season, reduce your stay outdoors to a minimum and avoid open spaces (less pollen fly in the forest).
  2. Only air briefly, preferably at night or during or after the rain; if it was an accurate shower, wait half an hour. The pollen density is highest in the countryside in the morning and in the city in the evening.
  3. Keep windows in the house and car closed; install a room air filter and a pollen filter for the vehicle.
  4. When driving, turn off the ventilation and close the windows.
  5. Wash your hair every evening so that the pollen does not get into your nose and eyes at night.
  6. Do not undress and change in the bedroom; often wipe the bedrooms wet and vacuum regularly (it is best to use a vacuum cleaner with a microfilter).
  7. The high mountains or the sea are suitable as holiday locations.
  8. Antiallergic nasal sprays, eye drops or tablets relieve the symptoms and help you get through the hay fever season.
  9. A sufficient supply of the trace element zinc can alleviate the symptoms of hay fever in many cases.
  10. Pollen count calendars from pharmacies and pollen forecasts by phone or on the Internet will tell you when your pollen is flying.

Diet for hay fever

In addition, you should try to relieve the symptoms with the proper diet:

  • Eat a lot of fresh fruit with vitamin C, which binds the itch-triggering neurotransmitter histamine.
  • Bananas, sunflower seeds and flaxseeds reduce the production of histamine.
  • Ribwort plantain, which you can prepare as a tea three times a day, helps against the inflammatory reaction (pour 200 millilitres of cold water over one teaspoon, let it steep for 30 minutes and strain).
  • Cedar oil is said to have an antiallergic effect – mix one drop with some sugar once a day and let it slowly melt in your mouth.
  • In the pharmacy, you can get ready-made preparations from butterbur, which is also said to reduce allergic reactions.

Regular nasal rinses with saline solution (e.g. with a so-called nasal douche), which cleans the pollen from the mucous membrane, help with severe problems in the nose area. You can keep the mucous membrane of the nasal wall supple with olive oil.

Frequent infections may be an influencing factor in the development of allergies. If this assumption proves to be correct, pollen allergy sufferers in particular should try to avoid colds and other respiratory infections. This includes good training of the immune system, for example through sport, regular Kneipp treatments and a balanced diet.

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