Understanding allergies and hayfever
An allergy is a reaction to a foreign substance in the environment that is generally harmless to most people. These foreign substances are called allergens or triggers. When you have allergies, your immune system makes antibodies that identify a particular allergen as harmful, even though it isn't. Depending on the allergen, this response may involve inflammation of your skin, sinuses, airways, or digestive system.
Hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, is an allergic reaction affecting the nose, throat, and eyes. It is usually caused by inhaling pollens that are present in the air and commonly occurs in spring. However, some people have symptoms of allergic rhinitis all year round, caused by inhaling allergens such as animal dander, mould spores and house dust mites.
The severity of allergies varies from person to person and can range from minor irritation to anaphylaxis — a potentially life-threatening emergency. While most allergies can't be cured, treatments can help relieve and manage your allergy symptoms.
Allergen avoidance or minimisation relies on identifying the cause of the allergy and taking steps to reduce exposure to the allergen. Amcal pharmacists can help with advice and treatment options to prevent or minimise the impact of allergic symptoms. Your allergy and hay fever consultation involves:
- Assistance with identification of allergy triggers
- Prevention and lifestyle advice on how to reduce the likelihood of having an allergic reaction.
- Developing a personalised allergy management plan to treat and minimise symptoms when they occur.
Book in for an allergy or hay fever consultation for a personalised assessment and plan.
What causes allergies?
Allergies are essentially your misguided immune system mistaking a harmless substance for a dangerous invader. Here are some of the most common causes of allergy.
- Airborne allergens: The most common causes are weeds, mould, mites, grasses, pollen and pet dander.
- Foods: Around 90% of food allergies are attributed to eight foods: milk, eggs, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, fish, shellfish
- Medications: Allergic reactions to medications can involve any part of the body.
- Insect stings and bites: Some people experience extremely severe allergic reactions from insect stings and bites. Commonly associated types include stings and bites from bees, wasps, hornets, fire ants, and bed bugs.
- Contact allergens: Common contact allergen materials include poison ivy, latex, personal care products, makeup and fragrances, certain chemicals and metals.
- Genetics: If your family has a history that includes people with allergies, you are likely to be more at risk of developing similar allergies.
The symptoms you experience because of allergies are the result of number of factors. These include the type of allergy you have and the severity. Allergy symptoms, which depend on the substance involved, can affect your airways, sinuses and nasal passages, skin, and digestive system. Allergic reactions can vary from mild to severe. If you become exposed to an allergen for the first time, your symptoms may be mild. These symptoms may get worse if you repeatedly come into contact with the allergen. In some severe cases, allergies can trigger a life-threatening reaction known asanaphylaxis.
Signs and Symptoms
- Sneezing, runny nose or congestion
- Red, watery, itchy eyes
- Skin rash, hives
- Swelling of lips, face, eyes
- Wheezing, shortness of breath
Anaphylaxis is the severest form of allergic reaction. It is a medical emergency and can be life threatening. Anaphylaxis can develop quickly, with symptoms appearing within minutes or hours of exposure to the allergen. In an emergency - call triple zero (000) for an ambulance
- Loss of consciousness
- Nausea and vomiting
- A drop in blood pressure
- Swelling or tightness in throat
- Severe shortness of breath
- Pale and floppy (young children)
Prevention - minimise the risk of developing symptoms
You can't always prevent allergies but there are ways you can prevent the symptoms from occurring. Whenever possible, try and identify and avoid exposure to the allergens that trigger your symptoms. You can reduce exposure to allergens and protect against allergic reactions and hay fever in a number of ways:
- Staying indoors on windy days when the seasonal pollen count is high.
- Keeping the house and car windows closed during the pollen season. Consider using air conditioning and air filter systems.
- Removing houseplants and garden plants that can potentially trigger hay fever.
- Cleaning your house regularly and thoroughly to completely remove mould and dust.
- Wash bed linen regularly in hot water. Hang blankets and quilts in the sun for at least four hours to kill dust mites.
- Avoid foods and medications known to trigger a reaction.
Treatment for allergies
Medicines will not cure allergies but a variety of over-the-counter-medicines can help relieve symptoms and prevent them from recurring.
Antihistamines are medicines that act by blocking the body's response to histamine. This reduces the severity of the reaction and eases the symptoms of allergy. They are available as tablets, syrups, nasal drops and sprays, and eye drops.
Decongestants shrink swollen blood vessels and tissues in the nasal passages. This can help to relieve a blocked nose as a result of swelling caused by an allergy. Nasal decongestant sprays and drops should not be used for more than 5 days in a row, to avoid a ‘rebound congestion’ effect.
Corticosteroid nasal sprays
Allergic reactions often involves inflammation of the lining of the nose. Corticosteroid nasal sprays can reduce or prevent this inflammation and help to reduce stuffiness and congestion in the nose. It can take up to 72 hours of regular use before maximum benefits are reached, and for symptom prevention, it is best used continuously through the allergy season.
There are additional treatments available.
- Saline (saltwater) nose spray or drops and saline sinus rinse can help clear mucus from the nose and sinuses.
- Lubricant eye drops (artificial tears) may relieve mild eye symptoms.
Frequently asked questions
Common allergic conditions include food and drug allergies, atopic dermatitis (eczema), asthma, and hay fever (allergic rhinitis).
- Asthma: is a condition affecting the airways that carry air into and out of the lungs. Symptoms vary from person to person but may include coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, or producing a lot of mucus.
- Hay Fever: During hay fever season, the tissues lining your nose become inflamed, causing a stuffy feeling. Some other symptoms may include sneezing, runny nose, scratchy throat, and red, itchy eyes.
- Eczema: is an allergic disease that causes inflammation of the skin, which leads to redness, oedema, oozing, crusting, scaling and intense itching. Most of these characterisations are found in the creases of joints and the trunk.
The risk of an allergy developing may be increased by the following factors:
- Family history of asthma of allergies: If you have a history of family members with allergies or asthma, the risk of developing allergies is significantly higher. Common familial allergic conditions include hives, eczema, and hay fever.
- Age: Children are more prone to developing allergies because of limited exposure of the immune system to a trigger As a result, children can sometimes outgrow allergies as they get older and their immune systems develop.
- Asthma: If you have asthma, the risk of developing an allergy is heightened as asthma can provoke the symptoms of allergies and vice versa. In addition, having one kind of allergic reaction can also make a person more prone to reacting adversely to other allergens. This is because the body has previously created specific antibodies to fight foreign substances and the immune system already feels threatened.
Having allergies can increase the risk of other medical issues, including:
- Asthma: If you have an allergy, you are more likely to develop asthma. In many cases, asthma is triggered by exposure to an allergen in the surrounding environment. This is known as allergy-induced asthma.
- Fungal complications of the lungs or sinuses: The risk of contracting these conditions, often referred to as allergic fungal sinusitis, is increased when a person has a pre-existing allergy.
- Anaphylaxis: This is a severe allergic reaction to an allergen. The most common triggers are medications such as penicillin, food such as nuts and shellfish, and insect stings (particularly bee stings). This is a medical emergency.
Most people associate hay fever with spring when airborne grass pollens are at their peak. This is known as seasonal allergic rhinitis or spring hay fever. However, hay fever can occur at any time of the year. When symptoms occur all year round, this is known as perennial allergic rhinitis.
There is currently no cure for hay fever, but you can do things to ease the symptoms when the pollen count is high.
- Stay indoors, especially when the pollen count is high when it’s windy or after thunderstorms.
- Wear sunglasses, carry tissues, shower when you arrive home, and rinse your eyes with saline to stop pollen from getting into your eyes.
- If your trigger is grass, avoid mowing, playing, or walking in grassy areas.
- Keep windows closed at home and in the car and use recirculating air conditioning in the car.
- Avoid outdoor picnics during the pollen season.
- Use an intranasal corticosteroid regularly throughout the hay fever season.
Your Amcal pharmacist can help ensure you are using your Intranasal Corticosteroid Spray correctly, however for a quick refresher see the guide below:
How to Spray an Intranasal Corticosteroid Spray (INCS)
- Prime the spray device according to the manufacturer’s instructions (for the first time or after a period of non-use).
- Shake the bottle before each use.
- Blow nose before spraying if blocked by mucus.
- Tilt head slightly forward and gently insert nozzle into nostril. Use right hand for left nostril (and left hand for right nostril).
- Aim the nozzle towards the outer side of the nasal passage (away from the central septum of the nose) and direct the nozzle backwards in line with the roof of the mouth (not upwards in the direction of the eyes).
- Avoid sniffing hard during or after spraying.
Hay fever is an allergic reaction to pollen that is often mistaken for a cough, cold, or even flu as they share some common symptoms. To help you identify whether it is a cold or hay fever it is important to know the symptoms of each. The most common symptoms of hay fever are a runny, itching, and/or blocked nose, itchy, watery eyes, and sneezing.
The main symptom that helps differentiate between hay fever and a cold is itchiness of the nose, throat, and eyes. A sore throat rather than an itchy throat is more common with a cold. Keeping a note of when your symptoms improve or get worse will also help you work out whether it is a cold or hay fever. If you notice your symptoms more when you are outdoors, then it is likely that you have hay fever. Always speak with your Amcal pharmacist if you are unsure.
Most people can manage or relieve allergies on their own. However, you should speak with your doctor about treatment options if your symptoms seem to be:
- Persistent, meaning that you experience symptoms at least 4 days in a week, for at least 4 weeks or more.
- Moderate to severe, meaning that your symptoms affect your sleep and daily activities such as work, school, sport, and leisure.
- If you are experiencing an anaphylactic reaction, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance.
Just ask Amcal
Australia have among the highest prevalence of allergies in the developed world. Appropriate treatment and relief will dramatically improve quality of life.
If you are experiencing allergy symptoms, speak to your Amcal pharmacist and arrange an allergy hay fever consultation. It is important to accurately diagnose symptoms for appropriate treatment, action and relief. During the consultation, you will be asked to share your medical history and details about your lifestyle that may help us better understand the allergy cause.
Gaining a better understanding of your work and home environments, plus the frequency and severity of your symptoms will help your pharmacist best provide tailored allergy prevention and management plan for better overall health and wellbeing.
For more information about allergies or hay fever speak to your Amcal pharmacist.
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