About Hay Fever: Treatment and Prevention

Prevention of hay fever may be possible if people learn to control their environment. Someone can help prevent or alleviate symptoms by avoiding exposure to allergens that cause all the miserable sneezing and itching. Here are some helpful tips for hay fever sufferers:

  • Keep windows closed and use air conditioning at home and in the car to reduce exposure to outdoor pollens.
  • Limit or avoid doing outdoor activities during peak pollen hours (between 5 a.m. and 10 a.m.). Check out daily pollen counts on TV or Internet or through the newspaper.
  • If outdoors for extended periods of time, make sure to shower and change clothes and shoes to avoid further contact with residual pollen.
  • Don't mow lawns or rake leaves. These activities stir up pollen and mold.
  • Don't line-dry sheets or clothes outdoors; they may get trapped with pollen and mold.

However, it's not always possible to control the environment or to eliminate or avoid allergens, especially those that are air-borne. Many people need drug treatment for relief. Fortunately, most people respond well to medications. The common treatment for hay fever is antihistamines. These can be taken orally or as spray or eye drops. If an oral antihistamine causes drowsiness, there is usually an alternative one that won't. For really bad symptoms at the peak of hay fever season, a corticosteroid spray may be prescribed by a doctor if antihistamines aren't working.

If antihistamines aren't effective, and a person can't avoid the allergen, the remaining option is desensitization, sometimes called hyposensitization or allergen immunotherapy. Small amounts of the allergen are injected regularly, slowly increasing the dosage. The hope is that the immune reaction gets weaker and weaker. Allergy shots are initially given 1 or 2 times each week. After about 6 months of weekly shots, maintenance treatment is started. Maintenance shots are usually given just once each month. After 3 to 5 years, some people are able to stop having shots.

Desensitization isn't risk-free. Very occasionally the patient has a system-wide immune reaction called anaphylactic shock, which can be fatal. People receiving desensitization will usually have to wait around for half an hour after each shot to be sure there's no reaction. It's often best to reduce the dose during pollen season. The best time to start desensitization is at the end of the annual allergic period.

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