Hay fever and allergies – a correct diagnosis matters

Allergic rhinitis – the low down

 Allergic rhinitis is more commonly known as hay fever and it affects about 18% of Australians, both young and old. Contrary to the commonly used name, it is not caused by hay, nor does it result in a fever. If your eyes or your nose come into contact with something in your environment and you react to it, this is can cause a “flare up”. Common triggers include animal dander, house dust mites, moulds, or pollen. If you find that you are sensitive to any of these, you may experience the following symptoms shortly after coming into contact with them:

  • Itchy, watery eyes
  • Itchy nose
  • Runny nose
  • Sneezing
  • Congestion in the nose and sinuses
  • Snoring (can be worsened by allergies)

Is it a cold or hay fever?

Some of these symptoms can easily be mistaken for the common cold or the starting symptoms of a viral infection, which is why it is best to talk to your doctor or pharmacist to get the correct diagnosis.   Symptoms can range from mild or moderate to severe. With mild symptoms you may find you can still function normally in your daily life, however, with more severe symptoms, your ability to function, work or learn may be impaired.

Untreated allergic rhinitis can sometimes cause complications such as:

  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Headaches usually above the eyes or in the cheeks
  • Lack of energy
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Recurrent sinus infections (in adults and children)
  • Cough

If you have any other respiratory issues and you do not manage your allergic rhinitis, you may find your symptoms are harder to control. This can be the case whether you’re an adult or a child, so it’s important to talk to a healthcare professional.

Is it seasonal or perennial (all year round?)

You may also experience seasonal allergies such as every spring and summer.This is usually caused by allergy to pollen, grass, trees or weeds. If symptoms are present all year round (perennial) your allergies are invariably caused by dust mites, moulds, and animal dander.

Testing for allergic rhinitis

If you think you have allergic rhinitis and the symptoms just don’t seem to go away, it is a good idea to make an appointment with your doctor. Your doctor can give you a referral to a clinical allergy / immunology specialist for further testing.

 Managing allergic rhinitis symptoms – from mild to severe

 If you can narrow down your potential trigger, then you may be able to minimise your exposure to those irritants. This isn’t always possible, but the good news is there are many other options that may help control and relieve some of your symptoms.

  1. If your symptoms are mild then non-sedating antihistamine tablets or antihistamine nasal spray may be helpful, along with cleansing your nose with preservative free saline spray several times throughout the day to wash away pollens, allergens or other irritants.
  2. If your symptoms are moderate to severe then a medicated nasal spray (recommended by your healthcare practitioner) used daily may be more helpful. The effectiveness of the medicated spray can be improved by cleaning your nose 10 minutes prior to using the medicated spray with preservative free saline spray. Saline helps to wash away irritants and pollens causing the symptoms and it also removes excess mucus so that the medicated nasal spray can work more directly on the tissues.
  3. If your nose is very blocked due to your allergies, try a preservative-free nasal decongestant spray for 3 days (or as advised by your healthcare practitioner). Use this nasal spray to reduce the nasal congestion twice daily so that saline sprays can get into the nose to wash away the triggers and excess mucus. Then use the medicated nasal spray 10 minutes after to reduce the level of nasal inflammation and help control your symptoms.

Remember your doctor or pharmacist is there to help you! Your healthcare professional can assess your symptoms and recommend an appropriate approach to controlling them. If you know or think you might be suffering from hay fever, ask your doctor or pharmacist to provide you with a hay fever assessment today!