Bless you! Questions and answers about hay fever

Bless you! Questions and answers about hay fever

The pollen season causes discomfort for many people who have allergic reactions. What an allergy actually is, how it develops and how to treat hay fever – all this you will learn now!

What is an allergy?

An allergy is a chronic disease. It is a malfunction of the body’s immune system. It reacts hypersensitively to harmless substances such as pollen, as if they were a serious threat to the body. 

How does an allergy develop? 

Until now, it has not been known exactly why certain substances trigger an allergic reaction in some people. Meanwhile, some factors are known that increase the risk of an allergic disease.

Often it is a combination of several factors:

  • Genetic predisposition (atopy): the more members of a family suffer from allergy, the greater the risk for offspring.
  • Excessive hygiene: Improved hygiene has led to the eradication of most infectious diseases in recent decades. Children who live on a farm, for example, where they come into contact with a wide variety of pathogens, are less likely to develop allergies than city children.
  • Air pollution: High levels of particulate matter probably intensify the effect of existing allergies. The fine particles penetrate deep into the lungs, the mucous membrane of the respiratory tract becomes more permeable and causes inflammatory reactions.
  • Cigarette smoke: This presumably leads to gene changes that damage the immune system. Passive smoking also increases the risk of developing allergies.
  • Nutrition: Coloring agents, preservatives and thickeners in food are considered to trigger allergies.
  • Stress: The psyche probably also plays a role in allergies. Stress factors such as emotional strain as well as private conflicts are particularly relevant.

What is hay fever?

Hay fever is a hypersensitivity reaction to pollen (pollen particles) from trees, shrubs, grasses and cereals. These pollens travel from one plant to another with the wind or through insects. They spread rapidly with the wind and can cause an allergic reaction.

Pollen is often on the move during the months of February through October.

Typical symptoms of hay fever

If the pollen gets on the mucous membranes of the nose or eyes, an immune reaction is triggered in allergy sufferers. The following symptoms can occur:

  • Sneezing and runny nose
  • Itching
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Tingling in the nose or eyes
  • Hypersensitivity of the nose
  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Difficulty breathing

How is hay fever diagnosed?

Medical history is very important in the diagnosis of hay fever.

This includes:

  • The patient’s description of the symptoms
  • The time and circumstances of the onset of symptoms
  • Allergic diseases of other family members

Usually a prick test is helpful to determine the corresponding allergy triggers. In this test, the patient is given small droplets of allergen-containing solutions on the forearm and at the same time the skin is lightly scratched in the affected areas. If there is hypersensitivity to certain allergens, redness and wheals form at the respective site.

The prick test can be used to determine which pollen could be triggering the allergic rhinitis or whether other allergens such as dust mites are the cause.

Another method is the blood test.

In both cases, it is important to distinguish hay fever from other conditions that cause similar symptoms e.g. colds such as rhinitis or bacterial sinusitis.

Pollen calendar – Which pollens are there and when?

January to May: Hazel, Alder

March to May: Ash, Birch

May to August: grasses & cereals

July to September: Mugwort, Ragweed

Does the FFP2 mask protect against pollen?

Because FFP2 and other corona masks can filter particles from the air, they also protect against pollen to some degree. This is because the masks reduce the amount of pollen that is inhaled. Therefore, it is likely to relieve nasal symptoms as well as bronchial symptoms. However, the mask does not provide 100% protection, as the eyes continue to provide a target for pollen.

How to treat hay fever 

Yes, you can treat a pollen allergy. Basically, there are three ways to treat hay fever:

  1. Avoiding the allergen: The theoretically easiest, but in practice often difficult to realize, is to avoid the allergen.Especially with hay fever, this is only possible to a limited extent, because pollen spreads everywhere during the season and is also not always visible to the naked eye. 

  2. Medication: The second option is medication to relieve acute allergy symptoms. Eye drops, nose drops, nasal sprays and tablets can help very well – especially antihistamines and glucocorticoids. However, with this therapy option “only” the symptoms are suppressed, the disease remains.

  3. Hyposensitization: The aim of this immunotherapy is to reduce the hypersensitivity to the allergen in the long term and to eliminate the corresponding allergic reactions as far as possible. Hyposensitization is the only therapeutic option that can sustainably counteract the progression of symptoms as well as the development of further allergies or the development of asthma.

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