Allergy and Hay Fever
What is an allergy?
An allergy is a reaction to a substance in the environment that is generally harmless to most people. ‘Allergens’ are found in plant pollen, foods, dust mites and other insects, pets, some medications and other sources.
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, Amcal pharmacy treatments can help relieve your allergy symptoms.
Effective prevention and treatments are available
Allergen avoidance or minimisation relies on identifying the cause of the allergy and taking steps to reduce exposure to the allergen. For example, reducing dust mite in the home may help reduce symptoms in people who are allergic to mites. A variety of non-prescription medicines can relieve the symptoms of hay fever/ allergic rhinitis and help prevent them recurring.
Amcal pharmacists can provide assistance with advice and treatment options to prevent or minimise the impact of allergic symptoms. Book in an allergy or hay fever consultation for a personalised assessment and plan.
What are allergic conditions?
Common allergic conditions include food allergies, eczema, asthma and hay fever. A person may react to allergens in a number of ways. Immune reaction and allergic inflammation can affect:
- Nose, skin, or eyes: resulting in hay fever and/or conjunctivitis
- Skin: resulting in hives or eczema
- Lungs: resulting in asthma
What is hay fever?
Hay fever, also called allergic rhinitis, is an allergic reaction affecting the nose, throat, and eyes. It is most common in spring due to airborne plant pollens.
Allergies and anaphylaxis are significant public health issues in Australia. The conditions appear to have been on the rise for decades, with individuals and entire families suffering the effects.
- Around 10% of infants in Australia are affected by food allergy by the time they are 12 months old
- 1 in 9 Australians have asthma and of these 3-10% have severe asthma
- 1 in 5 Australians have allergic rhinitis
- Around 25% of the population will suffer from urticaria (hives) at some point in their lives and up to 3% will have chronic urticaria
- Around 32% of Australia’s population will have atopic dermatitis at some point in their life
Allergic reactions and symptoms
When a person gets exposed to allergens, the body produces histamine which affects the nose, eyes, skin or lungs.
This can cause symptoms of an allergic reaction, including:
- Sneezing, runny nose or congestion (allergic rhinitis)
- Itchy eyes (allergic conjunctivitis)
- Skin rash, hives (food allergy)
- Wheezing, shortness of breath (asthma)
Some allergies are life-threatening, while others are known to affect a high percentage of babies. If you or a loved one suffers from stubborn or seasonal allergy symptoms, you should contact a medical professional for a diagnosis. You can discuss signs and symptoms, take a physical exam, and may be asked to keep a detailed diary of possible allergy triggers. In some cases, a skin test or blood test may be recommended.
Allergy treatments and therapies
There are many different immunotherapy approaches to treating allergies. Allergens respond in a variety of ways depending on the allergy trigger, such as itchy eyes associated with hay fever, skin rash associated with eczema, or shortness of breath caused by food allergens. Your treatment approach will depend on the specific allergic condition.
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.
A variety of non-prescription medicines can relieve the symptoms of hay fever/ allergic rhinitis, and other allergies, and help prevent them from recurring. Ask your Amcal pharmacist or doctor for advice about the best treatment for you.
- Reduce allergy reactions in the body and can relieve itching, sneezing, runny nose and eye symptoms.
- Can give prompt relief of symptoms.
- Are available as tablets, syrups, nasal drops and sprays, and eye drops.
- Reduce nasal and sinus congestion.
- Are available as tablets, syrups and nasal drops and sprays.
- Do not use nasal drops or sprays for more than 5 days in a row, to avoid a ‘rebound congestion’ effect.
Corticosteroid nasal sprays:
- Allergic rhinitis involves inflammation of the lining of the nose. Corticosteroid nasal sprays (e.g., Rhinocort, Beconase, Flixonase, Telnase) can reduce or prevent this inflammation.
- Can relieve and prevent all the symptoms of allergic rhinitis, including itching, sneezing, runny nose, blocked nose and eye symptoms.
- Can give some relief within a few hours, but several days of regular use may be required for maximum effect.
- To prevent symptoms, they need to be used continuously throughout 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.
Interesting facts about allergies
- Allergic disease affects more than four million Australians
- A person can suffer from multiple or severe allergic diseases
- Living with an allergy increases stress and anxiety levels
- Research has linked genetics with allergic disease
- Anaphylaxis is the most severe form of allergic reaction
Frequently asked questions
A risk factor, or contributing factor, increases the chances of having a disease or condition. The more risk factors you have, the greater likelihood of contracting an allergy. Using the example of allergic rhinitis, here are some of the contributing factors to be aware of.
Genetics: Allergies are known to run in families. Your chances of contracting allergic rhinitis are much higher if one or both of your parents have it.
Health problems: Your chances of allergic rhinitis are higher if you also experience:
- Food allergies
Age: Allergic rhinitis usually appears during childhood years. Problems often disappear before adulthood. If you start experiencing allergic rhinitis symptoms after age 20, they may last into middle age.
Occupation: Some people experience allergies because of the work they do. Problems can be caused by:
- seed, wood, and textile dust
- certain foods and spices
- odours, fumes, and chemicals
- animal dander
- rubber latex
- storage mites
Talk to your doctor about the steps you need to take to lower your risk.
In most cases, allergies cause only mild to moderate discomfort, but some allergic reactions are severe, or even life-threatening. Having allergies is known to increase the risk of other medical issues, including:
Asthma: A person with an allergy is more likely to develop asthma. The condition can be triggered by exposure to allergens in the environment, called allergy-induced asthma.
Fungal complications: The risk of contracting allergic fungal sinusitis and other complications is increased when a person has a pre-existing allergy.
Infections of the lungs or ears: The risk of contracting infections is higher when the sites of potential infection are already inflamed due to hay fever or allergic asthma.
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. Anaphylaxis is a medical emergency and requires immediate attention.
Allergies are essentially your misguided immune system mistaking a harmless substance for a dangerous invader. The body’s response can result in mild symptoms such as a cough, sneeze, or a mild rash. An extreme allergic reaction can cause severe and extensive rash outbreaks or life-threatening anaphylaxis. Here are some of the most common causes of allergy.
Airborne allergens: Approximately one-third of Australian adults and children suffer from allergic rhinitis due to airborne allergens. The most common causes are weeds, mould, mites, grasses, pollen and pet dander.
Foods: Food allergen reactions can affect the skin, nasal passages, airways, gastro and cardio systems, and more. Around 90% of food allergies are attributed to eight foods:
- milk (mostly affecting infants and toddlers)
- tree nuts
Medications: Allergic reactions to medications can involve any part of the body. Examples include hives, rashes, itching, coughing, and wheezing. If you have any concerns regarding adverse effects from prescription or over-the-counter medications, speak to your Amcal pharmacist or treating doctor for the best advice moving forward.
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: Many chemicals cause minor skin irritation, but some can set off a genuine allergic reaction. Common contact allergen materials include poison ivy, latex, personal care products, makeup and fragrances, certain chemicals and metals.
Genetics: Allergies are known to run in families. If your family has a history that includes people with allergies, you are likely to be more at risk of contracting similar allergies. If you suffer allergy symptoms, your family history may help your doctor pinpoint the allergen cause.
Lifestyle risks: Smoking and second-hand smoking is known to raise allergy risks for children and infants. Avoiding the allergens that trigger allergies is the first step in a healthier life. This can involve lifestyle changes such as avoiding the outdoors at certain times, checking food ingredients, and not wearing some textiles and materials.
Hay fever includes seasonal and perennial (year-round) varieties.
- Seasonal allergic rhinitis: Symptoms commonly occur in spring, summer and early autumn when pollen counts are high. Breezes and wind gusts can trigger seasonal allergic rhinitis.
- Perennial allergic rhinitis: Symptoms of perennial allergic rhinitis can be experienced year-round. Animal dander, pet hair, dust mites and mould are common perennial allergic rhinitis triggers.
In order to understand the difference between the common cold and hay fever, you will need to know what each condition involves. There are more than 200 cold virus subtypes, with rhinovirus the most common. These colds are transmitted via droplets in the air, usually caused by coughing and sneezing.
Hay fever and other allergies, on the other hand, are not caused by a virus and are not contagious. Allergies occur when your immune system reacts defensively against normally harmless substances. Histamine is one compound released by the body in this situation and is the known cause of many common allergy symptoms.
Asking questions will determine whether your symptoms are due to an allergy or a cold.
- Did the symptoms appear suddenly? Fast arising symptoms are more likely to be caused by an allergy.
- How long have the symptoms been noticeable? Allergy symptoms can last longer due to the triggering allergen still in effect.
- Do symptoms arise at predictable times? Symptoms that occur at the same time year after year are often due to seasonal allergies.
- Do symptoms include water, itchy eyes or eczema? Certain symptoms are more frequently experienced with hay fever and other allergies.
Just ask Amcal
If you are experiencing allergy symptoms, speak to your Amcal pharmacist and arrange an allergy test/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.