What is ‘Hayfever’?
Hayfever is a common form of allergy caused by pollen, dust, or sometimes mold that results in the eyes and nose becoming itchy and inflamed. You may also experience a runny nose, a mild cough, and itchy, red, watery eyes. Hayfever is also known as seasonal allergy, allergic rhinitis, or – when talking specifically about its effect on eyes – allergic conjunctivitis. We will discuss treatments and worst-case scenarios/best-case scenarios in this brief article.
I’m actually concerned about untreated hayfever because, as I write this in March of 2021, we are in the middle of a pandemic. If there’s anything we want less of in a pandemic, it’s:
1. Sneezing in public
2. Coughing incessantly
3. People constantly rubbing their eyes because they itch like crazy
How common is hayfever?
• Studies show that about 7.8% of U.S. adults have hayfever.
• In a 2010 study, 10% of white children in the U.S had hayfever, while 7% of black children did.
• Worldwide, allergic rhinitis affects between 10% and 30% of the population.
How can you tell allergies from the common cold?
• Itchy, watery, and red eyes are very common allergy symptoms.
• Nobody gets a fever from allergies, but a bad cold can lead to a fever
• A sore throat is much more common with a cold than with allergies.
• Seasonality is important. If you experience the same symptoms year after year in March or April, that’s probably seasonal allergies.
Some patients only get allergies in certain parts of the country. Does location matter?
In short, yes. Location matters a lot. Our immune systems will typically become used to the pollens and molds that are endemic in our youth. So, if we don’t move to different regions much, things should not get out of hand.
Often, if you get acclimated to plant pollens, etc. in the Midwest when you are young, you won’t have severe allergy issues later. If you move elsewhere later in life, like to the desert Southwest, your immune system will experience a whole new set of plant pollens and likely some new molds too.
During the first year in a new region, your immune system is gathering info. Then it stores this information. The second year and every year thereafter is when you should expect allergies to the plants of the Southwest to pop up if you are susceptible.
Should I go to an allergy clinic or to an eye clinic that handles medical eye issues?
It’s worth stating the obvious here. Allergy clinics are booked up during allergy season. Plus, if your main symptoms are eye-related, you’ll receive a better exam and hayfever treatments at a Seattle eye clinic anyway.
What medical treatments are available without a prescription?
Let’s assume that you’re a patient with allergic conjunctivitis (red, itchy, watery eyes typically seen in the spring). These patients have their symptoms resolved most efficiently with a 1, 2, 3 punch treatment. The beauty of this treatment protocol is that it’s over-the-counter and therefore pretty inexpensive.
1. Eye drops (1-2 drops per day of Zaditor, Alaway, or Pataday) are the treatment of choice for ocular symptoms. These drops can also help with sinus congestion.
2. Oral medications (Zyrtec, Claritin, Allegra) are extremely helpful in providing around the clock coverage
3. Nasal corticosteroids (Flonase, Nasacort) are necessary in a large percentage of cases. They carry a little higher risk than the drops and orals and thus should be used judiciously.
Are there any effective non-medical interventions?
Surprisingly, yes. Many of our patients are hoping to solve medical issues without the use of medicines. These non-pharmaceutical ideas can also help patients who are utilizing the medical treatments outlined above. Treating ocular allergies without medicines involves avoiding exposure. Measures like keeping the windows shut, using an air purifier in the bedroom, washing your hair before bed to remove pollen, and maybe throwing a blanket over your sheets and pillowcase every morning will help.
Clearly, if your allergies go bonkers in the Midwest, but you do fine on the West Coast, then go west. Then, avoid trips back to the Midwest in the spring and summer.
In conclusion, let’s consider best-case scenarios and worst cases too.
Worst-case scenario: You sneeze on a stranger, or they sneeze on you. Sneezing on somebody is a big deal that we need to avoid, even if it’s not during a global pandemic. Sneezing into a mask is also a rather unpleasant experience.
Best-case scenario: If you are going out in public, let’s proactively treat your hayfever to keep you from sneezing and dripping tears all over town. Not only will you be potentially less infectious, but you’ll also feel much better without allergy symptoms.