September 24th, 2014 by Brenda Bassett
For many, fall signifies the change of leaves from green to vibrant reds, oranges and yellows. But for one in five people, it’s time to control a seasonal allergy: hay fever.
Despite its ill-suited name that would lead you to believe you are allergic to hay, the allergic reaction is actually rarely triggered by hay. The myth dates back to the 1800s when British doctors discovered that people exposed to cut hay or grass resulted in sneezing and itching, producing nervousness, which was referred to as a “fever.” Thus, the term hay fever was coined.
Hay fever, also called allergic rhinitis, causes cold-like signs and symptoms such as itchiness of the nose, roof of the mouth, throat, eyes and ears, along with watery eyes, runny nose, congestion, and sneezing. But unlike a cold, hay fever isn’t caused by a virus; it is caused by an allergic response to outdoor or indoor allergens, such as mold, trees, pollen and pet dander.
Hay fever, which affects an estimated 60 million people in the United States, young and old, can really take a toll on your daily routine, and is a nuisance both personally and professionally. Whether you’re affected year-round or during a specific season, learning how to manage hay fever symptoms can be vital to restoring your comfort and quality of life.
This condition can also be expensive to manage. From 2000 to 2005, the cost of treating allergic rhinitis nearly doubled from $6.1 billion to $11.2 billion, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. More than half of that was spent on prescription and over-the-counter medications. Some experts recommend patients purchase store-brand, over-the-counter medicines as an effective means of managing both the condition and its associated costs.
“There are a number of very effective over-the-counter treatments to address the symptoms of seasonal allergies,” says Dr. William Berger, professor of allergy and immunology at the University of California, Irvine. “In fact, to help patients save money, I would recommend many of the store-brand, non-sedating antihistamines sold at leading retailers and pharmacies, such as Cetirizine or Loratadine. These products are approved by the FDA, but cost significantly less than the brand names.”
According to Berger, many allergy sufferers may find better relief of their symptoms by trying one of these newer, more effective treatments now available in the aisle, like Fexofenadine, which just switched from prescription to over-the-counter in 2011.
“Even if it isn’t the hay folks are actually allergic to, it doesn’t make ‘hay fever’ any less miserable for those dealing with it. Effective management with medicines, ideally before the symptoms start, is key,” he says.
You can find more information about the symptoms and treatments for allergic rhinitis at the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (www.aaaai.org), or the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (www.acaai.org).